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Cultivation of cassava still firmly rooted

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A woman sifts through a pile of dried cassava in Pursat province last year. Hong Menea

Cultivation of cassava still firmly rooted

Cambodian farmers continue to expand cassava cultivation despite falling commercial prices for the crop and low international trade volumes, new data from the Ministry of Agriculture show.

The total area of cassava cultivation grew 34 percent last year, with the starchy tuber planted on 771,000 hectares nationwide, compared to 574,000 hectares the year before.

Sok Vanna, deputy director of the department of industrial crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, said it was a bit of a mystery as to why farmers continue to expand cassava cultivation while complaining that it is an unprofitable crop.

“The growth of cassava cultivation keeps growing and is still the second largest crop planted in Cambodia despite farmers always complaining about prices,” he said.

He said the ministry has made numerous attempts to wean farmers away from the cash crop, which is second only to rice in popularity.

“Ministry officials are trying to encourage farmers to rotate their crops in order to maintain the quality of land and get higher yields but it is hard to change a farmers mind,” Vanna said. “They will continue to grow cassava despite there being a lack of a market.”

Farmers have long complained of the crop’s price volatility and a general decline in international market prices. The price of dried cassava has fallen about 50 percent over the last two years to around 400 riel per kilo.

Yang Phirom, a business adviser for Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), said that efforts to shift farmers away from cassava have been hindered by their lack of confidence in viable alternative crops. However, he said farmers could secure better prices for their crops if they received support to help them avoid dealing with middlemen.

“Cassava cultivation has become habitual even if there is not a good market because farmers do not see that they have any other option,” he said.

“The government should build up the confidence of farmers to find the right buyers, not just rely on the low prices offered by brokers.”

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