Local specialty food producer Confirel Co Ltd has secured the first-ever export contract for Cambodian salt, finalising an order for 20 tonnes to French consumers and offering a ray of hope as the local salt industry teeters on insolvency.
Under an agreement signed with French company Le Guerandais, the bulk shipment of unprocessed raw salt collected from salt farms in Kep and Kampot provinces will be refined in France for the use in food products.
“This is just a test into a new market,” Hay Ly Eang, president of Confirel, said yesterday. “If Cambodian salt is acceptable for the French we would then look at processing the salt directly here before exporting, if the quota is increased.”
Ly Eang added that Le Guerandais selected Confirel due to the similarity between the salt harvesting techniques the company uses and those practised in the western French town of Guerande, where fine sea salt is a gourmet condiment.
“Our salt quality and the shortage of domestic supply Le Guerandais faces is why they are importing from Cambodia,” he said. “This deal proves to the industry that our salt has potential for export.”
Bun Baraing, co-director of the Kep-Kampot Producers Community (KKPC), said 20 tonnes was a relatively small shipment, and sold at a low $58 per tonne, but this was the first export shipment in the salt cooperative’s 13-year history.
“We are excited and hope that that the industry can expand its exports in the future,” he said.
He added that KKPC currently has a massive glut of supply, with stockpiles of over 243,000 tonnes of salt and low buyer interest. Last year, the cooperative managed to sell just 7,000 tonnes of salt to the Cambodian market.
“We have good quality salt, but compared to salt from Thailand, we often can’t compete because theirs is whiter and cheaper,” he said.
Baraing said the local salt industry has taken twin blows from climate change and the lack of domestic consumption. He said production dwindled from 174,000 tonnes in 2015 to just 27,000 tonnes last year, while salt storage facilities have been stretched to their limits.
“We face a lot of challenges in the industry and climate change and a lack of a market has not helped,” he said.
“We are fighting to survive and there has been no help from the government to prop up the industry.”
He added that there are over 4,000 hectares of salt fields in the provinces of Kep and Kampot that could employ up to 5,000 workers – if there was adequate demand.
Oum Sotha, spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft, said the success of a local company in securing a salt export contract could breathe life into the struggling local salt industry. The French vote of confidence could also spur domestic demand, raising perceptions on its quality.
“Exports to France show that Cambodian salt is being accepted internationally and this should help domestic consumption,” he said.
Sotha said local salt has primarily faltered because it cannot compete on price, processing standards or packaging.
He added that the ministry is currently trying to help salt producers raise their quality standards to help promote the market and compete globally.