Unless farmers embrace new techniques, crowding and filth will limit profits to the sale of eggs and livestock: official
Poor sanitation and overcrowding in crocodile farms are hurting a potentially lucrative trade, with high-end buyers shunning Cambodian skins, a local official said.
"[Cambodian] farmers usually raise crocodiles like poultry - in crowded, small pools. They don't take care of them, so skins are damaged when they bite each other," says Nao Thuok, the director general of the Fisheries Administration.
The industry could earn 20 times more than the US$1 million it brings in now if it improves farming conditions, Nao Thuok says.
Cambodia has about 800 licensed croc farms with about 7,000 breeding females and 4,000 breeding males in Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Thom.
Instead of selling high-end skins, Cambodian farmers sell roughly 100,000 baby crocodiles per year to Thailand, Vietnam and China, at about $10 a head, he said.
Farmers areÂ missing out on more profitable sales to Singapore, which demands top-quality skins free of cuts and nicks.
"Number one quality skins are purchased internationally for $4.50 a centimetre, and a crocodile can grow to 50cm wide, so one crocodile can earn about $225. They also get about 10kg of meat to sell for extra revenue," Nao Thuok said, adding that Cambodia's croc skins are rated only number three or number four.
"If farmers sell a live croc, they get only about $100 to $150 for an adult [three-year-old]."
The government hopes that better training will help Cambodia to become a top-tier supplier.
Last year, the Fisheries Administration, with funding from Singaporean companies, began educating farmers in Siem Reap in techniques to prevent skins from being damaged.
They are difficult to care for and we donâ€™t have a clear target market.
Internationally recognised standards established by Singaporean companies requireÂ farmers to raise crocodiles in smoothly paved, compartmentalised pools. They must also remove the crocodiles from the pool daily to change the water, and the pool itself must be sprayed to protect the crocs from insects that eat and damage the skins.
A long way to go
Khoeu Chhin, a crocodile farmer in Siem Reap town, agrees with others the industry has a long way to go before it is up to Singaporean standards.
Nao Thuok said, "Singapore is very picky about the quality of crocodile skins. Even if there is a very small cut or damage on the skin, Singaporians won't buy it. Our croc skins are too low quality for Singapore. But we hope to export a few skins to Singapore at the end of this year."
"To get the best quality skins...it takes a lot of investment."
Kaing Sarin, the owner of a two-hectare crocodile farm in Kandal Stung district, Kandal province, told the Post on August 5 that raising crocodiles for skins is too much trouble.
"I am not interested in raising crocodiles for skins because they require a lot of capital, they are difficult to care for and we don't have a clear target market.
"My farm has 4,000 crocs including 2,000 females that deliver some 7,000 babies a year," he said. "I sell the babies to China, Vietnam and Thailand via a middleman-a baby costs about $12."
Nao Thuok said all of the croc farmers he deals with are legitimate, paying export taxes and possessing proper permits.
But environmentalists have raised concerns that farms often provide cover to illegal wildlife traders who purchase endangered Siamese crocodiles poached from Cambodia.
Once a croc is inside the farm, there is no determining its true provenance.