The third and final inter-ministerial meeting on the National Policy on Cashew Nuts for 2022-2027 concluded on November 25, and the document will now be submitted to the Council of Ministers, or Cabinet, for review, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Key objectives of the national policy include reinforcing Cambodia’s capacity to grow, store, process, package, market, distribute and export cashew nuts and derived products, and establishing the Kingdom as a major producer and supplier regionally and globally.

And industry insiders are counting on a substantial uptick in money pouring into the cultivation and processing of cashew nuts as a result of the instrument, as well as a drop-off in the hefty volumes of the kidney-shaped drupe seeds sold to Vietnam each year in an unprocessed state – and hence of lower value.

In a November 25 commerce ministry statement issued in conjunction with the final inter-ministerial meeting, secretary of state Reach Ra commented that that the national policy has been on the table during a whole slew of gatherings, including those among the assigned technical working group under the ministry, as well as with other ministries, development partners, representative bodies for growers and exporters, and other private sector actors.

Cashew nut Association of Cambodia (CAC) president Uon Silot suggested that underlying constraints of the current legal and policy framework have inhibited the cashew nut sector’s full potential from being unleashed, despite its sizeable contributions to the economy, leading to sub-optimal investment inflows and perceptible signs of neglect.

Cambodia has seen a major boom in exports of the fibre-rich seeds enjoyed as a healthy snack the world over. Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries show that Cambodia exported 937,974.26 tonnes of cashew nuts last year worth a total of $1.605 billion, up by 328.34 per cent by tonnage and 233.32 per cent by value over 2020.

Silot believes the national policy’s tax perks and other benefits for industry players will woo a wider pool of local and foreign investors into the cashew nut scene. The policy will “reduce trade barriers and enable farmers to sell directly to factories at better rates than to brokers”, he told The Post on November 27.

“The government and relevant stakeholders should play close attention, since the [cashew nut] sector uses less land for cultivation, but has the potential to bring in more national incomes than rice,” he argued.

For comparison, the Cambodia Rice Federation, the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body, reported on November 5 that January-October milled and unmilled rice exports clocked in at $957.30 million, which is not on pace to meet last year’s cashew nut total.

Silot reported that, year-to-date, Cambodia has exported about 670,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts, worth $1.077 billion, although he pointed out that this marked a 34.65 per cent year-on-year drop from nearly $1.65 billion.

Vietnam has been this year’s biggest buyer by far, accounting for 660,000 tonnes, even though the neighbouring country imported 37 per cent fewer compared to the same time in 2021, he said.

By contrast, although no value figures were provided, recent agriculture ministry statistics indicated that, in the January-October period, the Kingdom exported 48.59 per cent fewer raw cashew nuts year-on-year at 469,515.15 tonnes, which went to Vietnam (467,301 tonnes), Thailand (2,050 tonnes), India (150.16 tonnes), mainland China (13.58 tonnes), Japan (0.14 tonnes) and the Philippines (0.05 tonnes).

Similarly, processed-cashew-nut exports in the same period amounted to 599.93 tonnes – down 58.93 per cent year-on-year – sold to Thailand (264.44 tonnes), mainland China (229.84 tonnes), Japan (74.43 tonnes), Taiwan (25 tonnes), South Korea (7.1 tonnes) and Switzerland (0.12 tonnes).

In Lay Huot, owner of Chey Sambor Cashew Nut Processing Handicrafts, which is based in southwestern Kampong Thom province’s Kampong Svay district, said heavy rains and pest infestations this year have brought down yields, quality and prices below 2021 levels for the edible seeds of the perennial tropical Anacardium occidentale tree, which is native to Brazil.

Lay Huot shared that although the per-kilogramme going rate for raw cashew nuts had been 3,000-4,500 riel ($0.73-1.09) during the peak harvest season in March-April, that figure has risen to the 6,000-6,300 riel range since October, which she affirmed was lower than during the same time last year.

In addition to the widely-anticipated investment, cultivation and export boosts, she also expects that farmers will greatly profit from government-backed training in improved cultivation techniques.

In a recent interview with The Post, commerce ministry spokesman Penn Sovicheat commented that, armed with the national policy, the Cambodian cashew nut sector would be better able to compete on the global market in terms of quality and quantity, and emerge as a major producer and supplier.

“The adoption of the national cashew nut policy will enable growers and processors to reap the full rewards from the implementation of production and value chains, as well as create competitive advantages and drive market diversification,” he said.