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Farmers have date with destiny

A farmer harvests dates from a date palm tree in 2013. Said Khatib/AFP
A farmer harvests dates from a date palm tree in 2013. Said Khatib/AFP

Farmers have date with destiny

A Thai agricultural company will work with a local firm to introduce commercial date palm cultivation to the Kingdom, which it claims can generate more profits for farmers than pepper and other cash crops, and for which it has already lined up buyers.

Chiang Mai-based Daily Green Co Ltd inked a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia’s Kheng Lay Co Ltd yesterday that outlines a partnership plan to educate Cambodian farmers on the commercial benefits of date palm cultivation, and supply seeds, saplings and technical support to farmers who choose to grow the cash crop.

Kheng Chantha, owner of Kheng Lay, said he has successfully grown date palms on a 10-hectare experimental farm in Kandal province, and the fruit-bearing variety of palm grows well in Cambodia and could provide a supplementary source of income for rural families.

He said the partnership agreement will see Daily Green responsible for supplying seeds and saplings to Kheng Lay, which will distribute them to local farmers and support their date production with technical advice and help in securing supplier contracts. The two companies will look to enlist local farmers to grow date palms on 50,000 hectares in the coming five years.

“We are investigating how many farmers in Cambodia want to be involved with us and grow date palms on their land,” said Chantha. “Date palms can be more competitive and provide more benefits to farmers than growing other crops, such as pepper.”

Date palms begin to bear fruit about three years after planting and can live for decades, he said. The nutritious, sweet fruit can be eaten fresh or dried, or processed into many food or beverage products, such as ice cream.

Pornpattarawadee Wongpantanan, president of Daily Green, said her company has more than 10 years’ experience in the commercial cultivation and production of date palms, and processes dates into more than 20 kinds of products.

She said farmers can grow about 200 date palms on a hectare of land, with an upfront investment cost of between $1,700 and $2,500 per hectare. Mature trees yield about 50 tonnes per hectare, with the current wholesale price of dates hovering around $8,500 per tonne.

While the numbers should convince farmers of the potential profit in date palm farming, Pornpattarawadee said the company is looking to educate Cambodians on dates, which are little known in the local market, in an effort to boost demand.

“For now, let’s start growing date palms here, and we will export them to the Thai market,” she said. “And when we have educated people about eating dates, the market here will grow more and more.”

Agricultural expert Yang Saing Koma welcomed the initiative to introduce commercial date palm farming to Cambodia, which he said would help diversify the Kingdom’s agricultural sector. However, he said that the upfront capital costs on seeds and saplings could prove an issue for small-scale farmers.

“In general, small-scale farmers might not dare to take the risk of growing the plant because the price of seeds is high,” he said. “But it might appeal to large-scale farmers who have big land.”

He added that the price of the saplings – $13 each according to Chantha – was substantial and the government should ensure that farmers who invest in palm date cultivation do not get burned.

Minister of Agriculture Veng Sakhon told reporters yesterday that his ministry would monitor contracts between Kheng Lay and farmers to ensure that farmers benefit from the deal.

“The Ministry of Agriculture will follow up on the agreement to ensure that there is a market for farmers who grow the plant,” he said.

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