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Giant sugar mill set to open in Preah Vihear

A farmer inspects a sugarcane crop in 2011. Next month, Rui Feng (Cambodia) International will inaugurate a $360 million sugar mill in Preah Vihear province, which is set to be one of the biggest in Asia.
A farmer inspects a sugarcane crop in 2011. Next month, Rui Feng (Cambodia) International will inaugurate a $360 million sugar mill in Preah Vihear province, which is set to be one of the biggest in Asia. Heng Chivoan

Giant sugar mill set to open in Preah Vihear

A Chinese-owned agricultural company will inaugurate a $360 million sugar mill in northern Cambodia next month, in what is being billed as one of Asia’s largest sugar processing facilities.

Rui Feng (Cambodia) International Co Ltd, part of a closely linked group of Chinese firms with adjacent economic land concessions (ELCs) in Preah Vihear province, is putting the finishing touches on its newly built sugar mill, which has a capacity of 20,000 tonnes per day, a company representative said yesterday.

Kuy Yoeurn, an administrative assistant for the firm, said the factory’s single line was capable of processing 20,000 tonnes of sugarcane daily to produce 2,000 tonnes of refined sugar. A second production line will be added in future.

“Sugar is in daily demand, and there is a big market, especially in the EU and Asia,” Yoeurn said, adding that the factory’s initial 1,000-strong workforce could grow fourfold as it ramps up production.He said the factory was currently testing its production line ahead of its scheduled opening on March 15.

The sugar mill is part of mammoth $1.5 billion project by the company and its four sister firms that will include a power plant, fertiliser factory and other infrastructure such as a hospital and school, said Um Sotha, spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft.

“It is a huge project, and consists of much more than just a sugar mill,” he said. “The factory that it is setting up here will produce for the world market, but mainly for export to the European Union.”

According to Poeng Trida, head of Preah Vihear’s provincial agriculture department, Rui Feng has invested $360 million into constructing the sugar mill and refinery on 214 hectares, and expects to complete the remainder of the project within three years.

The government granted Rui Feng a 8841-hectare ELC in 2011 for the cultivation of sugarcane, rubber and acacia. The total land area was subsequently trimmed by about 1,000 hectares in an effort to settle disputes with those living on the land.

The company has faced ongoing protests from villagers and indigenous hill tribes, who accuse it of land-grabbing.

The adjacent ELCs are owned by Rui Feng’s sister companies, Lan Feng, Heng You, Heng Rui and Heng Nong. Collectively the Chinese-owned companies hold five separate ELC licenses covering a total of 40,000 hectares, effectively circumventing legislation that prohibits a single company from holding more than 10,000 hectares.

The new mill and refinery will process sugarcane collected from the five ELCs, exporting raw and refined sugar to buyers in the EU, China and India.

Trida said the new sugar mill was a positive investment for the remote province, and would create thousands of new jobs while improving the livelihoods of local communities.

“This is the good project as it brings investment and development, and guarantees a market for farmers,” he said.“Farmers will no long need to worry about finding a market for their crop, and will make about twice as much income.”

According to Trida, the company has already inked supply contracts with 100 local families, and has agreed to purchase sugarcane for between $38 and $40 per tonne. One hectare of land typically yields between 60 and 100 tonnes of sugarcane per harvest, with four crops a year.

Waste generated by the factory will be used in the production of fertiliser or to generate electricity.

Un Chenda, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, said Rui Feng and its partners were expanding their cultivated area and some of their sugarcane crop would be ready for harvest when the factory begins operation.

“This is a modern factory about three times bigger than anything in China,” he said.The new sugar mill will be among the biggest in Asia.

Thailand, the world’s fourth-largest sugar producer, produced a record 106 million tonnes of sugarcane during the 2014-15 season, with sugar output of 11.3 million tons, according to the Office of Cane and Sugar Board.

Its Kaset Thai Sugar Factory, the largest sugar mill in Asia, has a production capacity of 55,000 tonnes per day.

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