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Covid fails to sour palm sugar’s sweet market

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Today, retail Kampong Speu palm sugar sells for 6,000 riel ($1.50) per kilogramme. POST STAFF

Covid fails to sour palm sugar’s sweet market

Minimal disruption to production chains and booming demand is sweet news for suppliers of geographical-indication- (GI) certified palm sugar.

Kampong Speu Palm Sugar Promotion Association (KSPSPA) president Sam Saroeun told The Post that the market for the “Kampong Speu Palm Sugar” GI product remains strong, a point made clear by a 500kg order recently placed by an Indian firm – through a broker – for export to the South Asian country.

“Now they want another 10 tonnes of palm sugar, but we don’t have that much available yet due to Covid-19 – it’d be tough for us to go down in person and drive up production.

“We’ve yet to respond to their request. If they’re looking for two or three tonnes, we’d be able to make good on it immediately,” he said.

He estimated that about 50 tonnes of palm sugar have been ordered from KSPSPA members this season for export.

According to Saroeun, members can produce 250 tonnes of the commodity per season in December-May. He said KSPSPA’s 10 member companies exported a total of 70 tonnes in 2020 to 15 countries in Asia and Europe.

He said: “Palm sugar has a stronger market than before, but our production faces risks stemming from Covid-19, making it difficult to ramp up the process. Moreover, farmers are worried that we won’t buy what they are able to produce.

“I urge them to keep making palm sugar as usual and we’ll go buy it all once the Covid-19 situation improves.”

Today, retail Kampong Speu palm sugar sells for 6,000 riel ($1.50) per kilogramme, he said.

The Ministry of Commerce granted domestic geographical indication (GI) to “Kampong Speu Palm Sugar” in 2010 under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

And on April 2, 2019, the European Commission (EC) announced that it would join Kampot pepper in its registry of protected GIs (PGIs), after the fruit was awarded the status on February 18, 2016.

Any product sold in EU countries purporting to be “Skor Thnot Kampong Speu”, as it was registered, must carry the “EU PGI logo” which certifies that it originates from either Kampong Speu province’s Oudong or Samrong Tong districts, or Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, the EC said in a statement.

Sebastien Lesieur, general manager of palm sugar exporter Farm Link Ltd, told The Post in December that that the market would rebound in 2021, after a year of nonexistent domestic demand amid Covid-19 left it on tenterhooks.

While the company generally sells 20 per cent of its product locally, the pandemic ensured that its local stockpiles remained higher than usual in 2020, he lamented.

Health crisis notwithstanding, he said demand for the GI product from Europe had been on an uphill slope, surging at an average of 10 per cent over the past 10 years.

“We still have some stock from last year due to the low demand on the domestic market, but we have found some new customers in Europe.

“We will buy from five to eight tonnes [from producers]. We usually export the palm sugar just after the end of the harvest, in May and June,” Lesieur said.

Year-to-date, he said the company had exported five tonnes of palm sugar, 20 tonnes combined of Kampot pepper, Indian long pepper (Piper longum) and “fleur de sel” (flower of salt).

“Fleur de sel” is a type of salt mainly associated with the northern coast France that forms as a delicate, flaky crust on the surface of seawater.

Palm sugar is a relatively expensive option, Lesieur said. It is sold at a retail price of around €10-15 ($11.80-17.70) per kilogramme in Europe, whereas the cane variety costs just €1-2.

“It is an amazing product – natural, not refined and good for your health,” he noted.

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