The southwestern province of Kampot has produced more than 75 kilotonnes of salt this season as a result of hot and otherwise favourable weather conditions, which is “more than double” the yield from 2022. Still, without further rainfall, there may still be more than a month left until the harvest is finished.

This is according to Kampot provincial Department of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation director Sok Kim Choeun and Bun Narin, president of the Association of Geographical Indication Kampot-Kep Salt Producers, the body which oversees “Kampot-Kep Salt”, a product that was domestically registered as a geographical indication (GI) in late April.

A GI is an intellectual property (IP) tool that protects products originating or otherwise closely associated with a specific geographical region and that possess distinctive qualities, reputations or other traits fundamentally attributable to their territory of origin. GI items typically come with a managing association, as well as a name, sign or symbol to distinguish them from unauthorised copies.

The coastal provinces of Kampot and Kep are Cambodia’s primary salt producers. The harvest season typically lasts from late December to mid-May, or even until early July with hotter and drier conditions.

The Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation reported that the total area used for salt production in Kampot and Kep was 4,748ha in 2021, with each hectare yielding an average of 20 tonnes each year under ideal weather conditions. This production area has reportedly stayed essentially the same since then.

Narin told The Post on June 14 that the harvest season was still ongoing even though Kampot experienced two consecutive weeks of rainfall.

The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology’s forecast of lower precipitation levels in July and August convinced some producers to hold off on filling and otherwise preparing a number of salt fields, he explained.

“Given the uptick in the harvest of GI-tagged product, I predict that the Cambodian salt market will improve in 2023 and that there will be more opportunities for export, along with higher prices,” he said.

According to Narin, salt at warehouses near production sites is currently sold at 25,000-30,000 riel ($6.25-7.50) per 50kg sack. Formal exports of GI salt have yet to begin, however a team at the association is preparing the sacks in which the commodity is to be packed, he said, adding that each sack is expected to sell for 35,000-40,000 riel each.

Narin suggested that Kep has generated just around two kilotonnes of salt so far this season, which he claimed has decreased in the past “two or three years” due to a drop in number of producers coupled with an increase in unfavourable weather conditions.

According to the Kampot provincial industry department’s Kim Choeun, three consecutive months of sufficiently high temperatures, minimal rainfall and other favourable weather conditions during the Cambodian salt season could bring output up to more than 100 kilotonnes.

This, he says, would be more than enough to meet the Kingdom’s estimated annual domestic demand of 70-100 kilotonnes with plenty left for storage.

Speaking to The Post on June 14, Kim Choeun echoed Narin’s remark that low amounts of precipitation and hot weather have brought Kampot’s salt production to over 75 kilotonnes, which the director revealed was “more than double” the amount for the 2022 season.

He asserted that the province’s salt yields will see a considerable jump in the absence of heavy showers in the upcoming two to three weeks and confirmed that much of the harvested product has been taken to market.

Last year, heavy rainfall reduced salt production to 30-40 kilotonnes, according to insider reports, prompting the Kingdom to import nearly 20 kilotonnes of the commodity from India to meet domestic demand.

But with the improved harvest this year, Narin believes that Cambodia “won’t run out of salt for domestic use, last year when imports were required.

“However, in the event that yields of the fishes used to make prahok are high this year, it may be necessary to import just a little bit,” he opined.

To recap, official figures indicate that salt output in the Kingdom increased dramatically from 80 kilotonnes in 2013 to 147 in 2014 and then to 175 in 2015, before falling back to 143 kilotonnes in 2016.

Production then plunged to a mere 33 kilotonnes in 2017, further dipped in 2018, and then again to just roughly 10 kilotonnes in 2019.

According to Kim Choeun, output rocketed to 105 kilotonnes in 2020 – 85 from Kampot and 20 from Kep. By comparison, the ministry’s Department of Handicraft Affairs reported that Cambodia produced more than 75 kilotonnes of salt in 2021, down by over 20 kilotonnes from a year earlier.