FARMERS’ crop yields are being undercut by unregistered middlemen selling fake fertiliser, and government efforts to combat this have proved ineffective, according to independent research from the Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI).
CDRI’s preliminary research, conducted as part of a larger program investigating agricultural policies for rice farming in the Middle Mekong region, found that the most likely place fertiliser corruption occurs in the supply chain is the unregistered mobile operators who buy from importers to sell directly to farmers or small retailers.
“There is a very high opportunity for traders to adulterate fertiliser in this process, either by mixing low and high quality products and selling it on as higher quality fertiliser, re-bagging low quality fertilisers in bags labelled with a higher quality brand, and even selling short-weight bags,” stated the CDRI report.
“Senior agricultural legislation officials and importers were confident that most of the main dealerships and retailers do not distribute fake products to customers. Because unregistered mobile operators are unidentified and unregulated, the concerted efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Provincial Department of Agriculture to crackdown on fertiliser problems have so far had little effect.”
Lim Chheng Lay, vice-chairman of Lim Bun Heng Trading Co, a fertiliser importer and distribution company, estimates 40 per cent of fertiliser currently on the market is fake.
She said that many unregulated depots purchasing from large importers have also imported low-quality fertiliser from Vietnam, but re-brand it as high-quality Thai product.
“We know them; they are the major distributors at Takmao city,” Lim Chheng Lay said.
“We have informed the local authority, but so far there is still very little intervention.”
Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said the government should be doing more to combat the problem.
“The government has to investigate the claims of fake fertiliser; they need to find out who is doing this. I am sure the government can do this because people are selling fake fertiliser at the market, so they can find out where they get it,” he said.
“Anyone who wants to distribute fertiliser has to register with the government, so the government can monitor and control them. People who are not registered with the government should not be allowed to sell fertiliser.”
These problems are occurring at a time when Cambodian farmers are being encouraged to increase their use of fertiliser. “There is a lot of commercialisation, we are trying to promote the use of fertiliser; as a result more and more farmers are using fertiliser and we are losing a lot of money because of this,” Koma said.
CDRI conducted a small survey of 35 farmers in Takeo province and estimates that 10 per cent of farmers had bought fake fertilisers, causing yield losses worth between $285 and $350.
CDRI’s preliminary findings also question the government’s licensing conditions, suggesting that it constrains market potential and encourages “large scale” illegal fertiliser smuggling from Vietnam.
After many attempts to make contact, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries would not comment on the issue.
According to data from the ministry, imports of chemical fertiliser had increased sharply over the past two years. In 2003 only 43,620 tonnes were imported, but the amount had reached 512,900 tonnes in 2011 and 556,400 tonnes last year.
Full study results from CDRI are expected in July.