Japanese firm Top Planning Japan Co Ltd (TPJ) appears to be fast-tracking plans to build new cashew nut processing facilities in Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham provinces, harnessing the potential of the local cash crop, with a view to meeting 30 per cent of the 10,000-tonne estimated annual demand for the edible kidney-shaped drupe seeds in the East Asian country by the end of the decade.

This is what Cashew nut Association of Cambodia (CAC) president Uon Silot told The Post on March 8. He recalled that TPJ has exported locally-processed cashew nuts to Japan since 2019, and that the 2022 total exceeded 100 tonnes, which stocked the shelves of about 300 OK Supermarkets in the island nation.

The company plans to bring that figure up to 3,000 tonnes per annum over the next five years, accounting for roughly three-tenths of total demand in Japan, he said, pointing out that “most” imported cashew nut products sold on the Japanese market are brought in from Vietnam or India.

Last month, a TPJ team visited the prospective sites for the new processing facilities – or in the case of Kampong Thom, a possible expansion of an existing installation – he revealed, noting that the location in Kampong Cham’s Stung Trang district could be near the border with Kampong Thom or Kratie. The three provinces intersect at a single point.

Each factory is planned to have the capacity to process about 20,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts each year, he said, noting that, on average, processed cashew kernels in their final stage weigh only about 25 per cent of the raw seed weight. This would ideally translate into an annual production capacity of at least 5,000 tonnes of processed cashew nuts.

“I’m optimistic that TPJ will invest and build the cashew nut processing installation soon – Cambodia was the world’s largest producer of raw cashew nuts in 2021,” Silot said.

According to the CAC, the world produced about five megatonnes of raw cashew nuts in 2021, with Cambodia accounting for the most at 1.18 megatonnes or 24 per cent of the total, followed by the Ivory Coast (1.1 megatonnes; 22%), India (0.8 megatonnes; 16%) and Vietnam (0.399 megatonnes; 8%), while others represented 1.52 megatonnes (30%).

However, Cambodia yielded just over 0.69 megatonnes in 2022, in a drop of over two-fifths that has largely been blamed on extreme weather events.

The area under cashew cultivation in Cambodia could drop by about 100,000ha from 2022 to 700,000ha this year. About 95 per cent of the Kingdom’s raw cashew nuts are exported to Vietnam, according to the CAC.

“Local processing plants will greatly boost the national economy and create jobs for the people. In 2021, cashew nuts and products thereof netted about $1.6 billion in revenues, and $1.07 billion in 2022,” Silot said.

In Lai Huot, owner of Kampong Thom-based Chey Sambor Cashew Nut Processing Handicrafts, similarly noted that “more than 90 per cent” of Cambodia’s raw cashew nuts are shipped to Vietnam.

“Large-scale cashew nut processing plants would bring plenty of positive results for the people and the national economy … [their absence] has forced loads to be exported,” she emphasised.

The average per-kg price of raw cashew nuts has risen to around 5,500 riel ($1.37), from 4,000 riel last year, she said, sharing that the crop is typically harvested from late January to late May each year.

The Council of Ministers on January 13 approved the National Policy on Cashew Nuts for 2022-2027 to reinforce Cambodia’s capacity to grow, store, process, package, market, distribute and export cashew nuts and derived products, and establish the Kingdom as a major producer and supplier regionally and globally.

According to the CAC, Cambodia exported 670,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts to the tune of $1.077 billion in 2022, down by 34.65 per cent year-on-year in terms of tonnage. Vietnam topped the list of buyers, importing 660,000 tonnes, down 37 per cent from 2021.