The 2023 salt harvest is expected to arrive in the second week of January, industry insiders claim, as imports of the essential mineral prompted by a shortfall in output have been put on ice.

Heavy rainfall this year drove down salt production to the range of 30-40 kilotonnes nationwide, according to insider reports, despite estimates putting the annual domestic demand at 70-100 kilotonnes. To make up for the deficit, the government authorised the private sector to import up to 60 kilotonnes.

The vast majority of the Kingdom’s salt farms are in Kampot province and neighbouring Kep, and the harvest season typically falls between early January and May each year, although it may extend longer with hotter temperatures.

A salt producer based in Kampot and owner of a company that imports the commodity from India, Bun Baraing confirmed to The Post on December 26 that inbound shipments of the mineral have been held off for about a month, having exceeded 20 kilotonnes or a third of the allowed amount.

Explaining the import freeze, he said Kampot and Kep farmers have been preparing their fields for around two weeks for the harvest, which he predicted would begin before mid-January.

For the time being, there is enough salt available to take care of demand until the harvest, including batches sourced from India, stockpiles of local product, or from unofficial imports, according to Baraing.

“We will not import more than we need … [otherwise] it will undermine our production,” he affirmed. “Nonetheless, we guarantee that there won’t be a shortage of salt for Cambodians to eat and use.”

He shared that the imported salt is going for 26,000 riel ($6.30) per 50kg sack, or similar to the same period last year.

Baraing added that salt warehouses near the fields are essentially out of stock, a comment that was echoed by Bun Narin, owner of Thaung Enterprise based in Kampot town.

Narin confirmed that work has begun on the fields as well as the channels used to flood the salt evaporation ponds with seawater. He claimed that with no rain, high temperatures and otherwise favourable weather at least in January-April, production next year could top 70 kilotonnes, most likely ensuring enough for domestic demand.

“Last year, Cambodia produced just over 30,000 tonnes of salt, which left us very shorthanded. Given that production depends on climatic factors, I don’t expect the 2023 salt harvest to be a repeat.

“[However,] if it rains once or twice a week between January and April, the harvest may indeed turn out like in 2022,” he said, underscoring that salt farming faces a significant labour shortage.

Fortunately for the industry, the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology on December 22 predicted low rainfalls for 2023.

The Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation reported that the total area under salt production in Kampot and Kep provinces was 4,748ha in 2021 and had not significantly changed in 2022, with each hectare yielding an average of 20 tonnes each year under good weather conditions.

Kampot provincial Department of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation director Sok Kim Choeun affirmed that salt output in his province reached just 30 kilotonnes this year, despite production areas and labour supply remaining at similar levels to 2021.

He claimed that favourable weather conditions over three consecutive months during the Cambodian salt season guarantees enough output to meet consumption for the year. “But it’s been very rainy since the beginning of the year, requiring Cambodia to import salt to meet demand.”

Official figures show that salt production in the Kingdom soared from 80 kilotonnes in 2013 to 147 in 2014 and then to 175 in 2015, before falling back to 143 kilotonnes in 2016.

It then plummeted to a dismal 33 kilotonnes in 2017. Production further dipped in 2018, and then again in 2019. The ministry reported that Cambodia imported about 10 kilotonnes of salt in 2019. The Post understands that Cambodia has only ever imported salt from India and mainland China, with the latest shipment from the latter arriving back in 2018.

And according to Kim Choeun, output rocketed to 105 kilotonnes in 2020 – 85 from Kampot and 20 from Kep.