CAMBODIA’S first cashew nut processing plant could help create jobs in rural areas and give a welcome boost to a growing industry.
Cambodia’s Mekong Rain Natural is set to invest US$5 million to build the plant, which it hopes will start production in March next year.
The plan has been welcomed by the government and industry insiders, who say it would help grow the industry and create jobs.
That view is supported by a new study from the International Finance Corporation, which found that local processing could boost the industry by an additional $30 million to $40 million a year.
Andrew McNaughton, chief executive officer of Mekong Rain Natural, which buys from nearly 4,000 farmers, said the company decided to invest in the plant because of the good quality of Cambodian cashew nuts and a recent increase in production capacity.
The company recently launched a small pilot plant for processing organic cashew nuts, set to be marketed in Phnom Penh.
The full-scale plant would produce 2,000 tonnes of processed cashews in the first year, increasing to up to 10,000 tonnes per year in the future.
“We are happy to be contributing to the economic development in the rural areas of Cambodia,” said McNaughton.
He added that the price of raw cashews was fluctuating from between 3,000 riel to 4,500 riel per kilogram, while processed nuts would sell for about $8 per kg. The main export markets are Europe, America, China and India.
Cambodia currently produces about 60,000 tonnes of in-shell cashews a year, or 3 percent of the world’s supply, making it the 11th largest producer, according to cashew nut trade specialist James Fitzpatick of Ingredient Sourcing Solutions. The average quality of Cambodian cashews in the 2009 to 2010 season ranked fifth out of the world’s eleven top producers.
Phok Sovanrith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said the government wanted the industry expand because it would help poorer farmers earn more income. “More local processing would also create jobs in rural areas such as harvesting, shelling, and packing cashews for export,” he said.
Improved farming techniques are also aiding yields.
President of cashew nut association in Kampong Thom province, Kim Theang, who has been planting since 1989, said that better methodology was increasing harvests, which have in the past been popular with Vietnamese buyers.