Overseas orders of palm sugar with geographical indication (GI) protection have declined on an annual basis, but have not materially affected production, as the commodity fetches higher prices than it did a year prior, according to the Kampong Speu Palm Sugar Promotion Association (KSPA).

KSPA general-secretary Vy Veasna said on April 3 that orders of the GI-tagged palm sugar have reached about 130 tonnes year-to-date, down 20 tonnes from the 150 tonnes logged in the year-ago period.

Palm sugar is made from the sap of the flowers of the palmyra palm (Borassus flabellifer) in the dry season, typically from November to end-May, with peak season starting in April – the hottest month of the year in Cambodia.

Kampong Speu palm sugar, or “Skor Thnot Kampong Speu”, is a variety certified with GI status, protections of which restrict production to only four of Cambodia’s 208 second-order administrative divisions, which form a continuous region that borders Phnom Penh to the west.

Veasna claimed that the drop did not present any major problems for the Kampong Speu palm sugar market, arguing that, in the past, production typically fell short of the total demand.

“As we know, the current situation is uncertain as the global economic situation has taken its toll on almost all sectors. The purchase of our palm sugar has also experienced certain problems, but only French companies have halted their orders on Kampong Speu palm sugar, or in some cases they placed smaller orders,” he said.

As a case in point, he said one company halted its order because it had palm sugar left in its inventory as it had purchased 10 tonnes last year, but other problems likely stemmed from indirect trouble related to the global crises.

He affirmed that so far this year, 30 tonnes of the GI palm sugar have been exported.

Veasna said that this year’s price for palm sugar had increased to 7,300 riel ($1.80) per kg, or 300 riel higher than last year’s price.

Confirel general manager Hay Ly Eang, whose firm exports Kampong Speu palm sugar, said his company’s purchases actually increased this year due to demands from customers using it as a raw material for other products, such as wines.

He added that its taste and quality had received high marks from buyers from the international market and this encouraged his firm to increase the volume of their orders. He also noted that they buy palm sugar from Kampong Cham province as well.

“Orders for the palm sugar by associations overseas have dropped dramatically, but my company did not reduce purchases – we’ve actually increased them,” he said. “This increase in quantity is because our customers overseas have already placed a lot of orders with us, including for fresh sugar, flour sugar and sugar syrup. In other words, we stepped up our production and processing to include 30 different sugar products, so we have had a lot of demand for our sugar.”

Ly Eang said Kampong Speu palm sugar has received a lot of attention from the markets in Europe as it is of high quality and different from the other sources of palm sugar available there.

He noted that Confirel buys over 100 tonnes of Kampong Speu palm sugar each year and about 60 per cent of it is exported to the EU, US and Japan.

Veasna said this year’s production of the GI-tagged palm sugar would be challenging due to the lack of palm tree climbers available after many had retired or taken up different work, along with low rainfall earlier in the year.

In 2010, the Ministry of Commerce granted domestic GI status to “Kampong Speu Palm Sugar” under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

And on April 2, 2019, the European Commission (EC) – the EU’s executive body – announced that it would join Kampot pepper in its registry of protected GIs (PGI), just over three years after the fruit was awarded the status on February 18, 2016.

Any product sold in EU countries purporting to be “Skor Thnot Kampong Speu”, as it was registered, must carry the “EU PGI logo” which certifies that it originates from either Kampong Speu province’s Oudong or Samrong Tong districts, or Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, the EC says.

Oudong district has since been divided into Oudong Me Chey town and Samaki Monichey district.