Crocodile breeders have asked for government intervention to help the industry penetrate new international markets through direct exports and placing less reliance on traders from neighbouring countries.
This comes as the price for newborn hatchlings plummeted to a record-low of $2.50 per head, down from the $7-$10 range seen during this time last year.
Female crocodiles typically lay 20-60 eggs between late February and May, which hatch between April and July.
Crocodile Raising Association of Siem Reap member Reach Chanthorn, whose farm boasts 500 large crocodiles, told The Post on Monday that the drop in price coupled with dried-up demand has led to severe losses for breeders.
He noted that the price had been in steady decline over the last three years, but this year’s slump had been on another level.
Chanthorn, who has more than 30 years of experience in crocodile farming, said breeding the creatures has “eaten up a chunk of gold and land titles, as this years’ price for hatchlings has taken a sharp dive, leading to losses for farmers”.
He noted that sales revenue this year amounted to just enough to purchase three months worth of feed for large crocodiles.
“Breeders are on their dying breath, the prices are way too low – I can’t even muster up the will to go see the crocodiles,” said Chanthorn.
He cited the absence of a direct international market, Vietnamese traders shaking up market prices and fewer buyers from Thailand as the main reasons for the drop in the price of hatchlings.
He said: “I believe that help from the authorities in allowing Cambodia to export crocodiles directly to China would prove a godsend. They’d fetch high prices given how large a market China is and how high their demand is for crocodile skin. We’d also be able to avoid depreciation due to intermediaries.”
Not exclusive to hatchlings, the price of adult female crocodiles have fallen from $500-$600 to about $150, he said.
Crocodile farming in the Kingdom produces between 800,000 and one million head per year, of which Siem Reap province accounts for 60 per cent, he said.
Chak Socheat, who has more than 200 crocodiles in the province, said the creatures are losing their marketability and costing breeders a lot of money.
As costs for feed have inched up year-on-year, the $2.50 price tag on hatchlings leaves breeders out of pocket, he said.
“Given the current situation, I would sell all my crocodiles in a heartbeat to the first prospective buyer. The longer I keep them, the more I’ll have to fork over for feed,” said Socheat, adding that fish for crocodile feed currently costs around 2,000 riel ($0.50) per kg.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries data show that there are about 700 crocodile farms in Cambodia, of which 445 are registered with the ministry.
Minister Veng Sakhon told The Post on Monday that the ministry has never neglected to seek international markets to export crocodiles directly from Cambodia.
The issue, he said, is that the product had no orders.
The current decline in prices and lack of markets may be due to factors such as quietness on the international market and Cambodian crocodiles not being raised in line with international standards, he said.
“The price of crocodiles in Cambodia depends on the international market. So if there are no international orders, prices will fall in suit,” said Sakhon.
He said he has always taken the initiative to showcase Cambodia’s potential and draw in investors and breeders who are able to produce crocodiles in line with buyers’ standards.
He noted that crocodile farming in Cambodia takes more of a monkey-see, monkey-do approach, and yields in low-grade crocodile skins. “With this method of breeding, our crocodile skins are completely incapable of meeting their [buyers’] standards.”
Crocodile breeding in the Kingdom produced 421,811 head last year, or 137.67 per cent of the 300,000 target, the ministry said in its 2019 Annual Report.
This is up 0.67 per cent, or 2,811 head, from the 419,000 crocodiles recorded in 2018.