Cambodia’s salt producers are suffering from a catastrophic harvest season that is likely to deplete their reserves and threaten the industry’s future prospects, according to leaders of the country’s largest salt federation.
About 200 families who harvest salt on the coast of Kampot and Kep provinces have been unable to collect any grains this year due to a large amount of rain during the dry season, according to Bun Narin, the technical chief of the Kep-Kampot Producers Community.
Salt harvesting season runs from January to April, when salt water is brought from the nearby Gulf of Thailand to flood more than 5,000 hectares of fields, eventually evaporating and leaving behind sea salt.
During a typical season, farmers would have harvested up to 100,000 tonnes of salt by mid-March, Narin said Sunday, but rains had stopped them.
“We could not collect any salt from January until now, because the rains won’t stop,” he said, “This year, farmers could not make any income because our salt farming depends on the weather.”
The industry brought in about $22 million in revenue last year according to data from the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts, while the sector’s total haul plus its existing reserves was about 143,000 tonnes.
But the annual domestic demand for salt is about 90,000 tonnes, which left the salt producers only 60,000 tonnes in reserves going into this year’s unproductive harvesting season.
“If the rains continue until April, we will face a salt shortage for the market this year,” Narin said. And even if the rains stop immediately, harvesters would likely need to deplete their entire reserves to meet demand, which would mean “no more salt stock for next year”, he added.
Cambodia’s salt operations have expanded in recent years, buoyed by international interest in the natural sea salt.
Local producer Confirel, better known for its Kampot pepper operations, became the first exporter of Cambodian salt last year, sending 20 tonnes to France in a test that was likely to lead to larger exports in the future, according to company president Hay Ly Eang.
Ly Eang said that French buyers were coming in the next month to view the salt farms, and things could get worse for the market in the future if the weather didn’t improve.
“For this year, it would be fine as we have salt left in the stock,” he said. “But we will face a shortage by next year if our salt production continues to be less and less.”