A Japanese business delegation is expected to visit Cambodia later this month to explore possibilities for investing in cashew nuts, a cash crop set by the government as a priority product to boost exports, sparking optimism for what lies ahead for the local community.

Cashew Nut Association of Cambodia (CAC) president Uon Silot told The Post on May 10 that the delegation would reportedly comprise “many leaders of firms from Japan”, and touch down in the Kingdom on May 25.

Silot said the group will meet with Cambodian authorities and the private sector to look into investing in areas such as cashew nut processing, as well as the production of cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL) and charcoal.

CNSL is a by-product from industrial processing that can be converted into a renewable, biodegradable and cost-effective biofuel, which is seen as an environmentally friendly replacement for petro-diesel. The biofuel too is often called CNSL.

On January 13, 2023, the government formally adopted the “National Policy on Cashew Nuts 2022-2027”.

Key objectives of the national policy include reinforcing Cambodia’s capacity to grow, store, process, package, market, distribute and export cashew nuts and derived products, as well as establishing the Kingdom as a major producer and supplier regionally and globally, while at the same time meeting economic-diversification goals and ensuring sustainability, inclusivity and competitiveness.

Currently, most of Cambodia’s cashew nut exports are in raw form, which fetch far lower prices than finished products, underscoring the untapped potential for investment in processing facilities.

Silot believes the visit could very well get the ball rolling for the cashew nut scene, pointing out that Cambodia offers plenty of potential to step up the production and processing of the edible kidney-shaped drupe seeds. He lamented the lack of investment in cashew nut processing facilities in the Kingdom.

“As far as I know, on May 25, many leaders of firms from Japan in the cashew nut processing business will travel to Cambodia and directly examine the potential of the conditions for planting, the quality of Cambodian cashew nuts, and the possibility of direct investment.

“During their visit to Cambodia, they’ll also meet with agriculture ministry leaders, local authorities, and the private sector in the Cambodian cashew nut industry,” he said.

According to Silot, cashew nuts currently sell for an average of 3,000-3,800 riel ($0.75-0.95) per kilogramme, depending on quality and region, marking a “slight increase” year-on-year.

In Lai Huot, owner of the Kampong Thom-based Chey Sambor Cashew Nut Processing Handicrafts, previously commented that – due to the limited domestic processing capacity – “more than 90 per cent” of Cambodia’s raw cashew nuts are shipped to Vietnam.

“Large-scale cashew nut processing plants would bring plenty of positive results for the people and the national economy … [their absence] has forced loads to be exported,” she emphasised.

She shared that the crop is typically harvested from late January to late May each year.

Meanwhile, Japanese firm Top Planning Japan Co Ltd (TPJ) appears to be fast-tracking plans to build new cashew nut processing facilities in Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham provinces, with a view to meeting 30 per cent of the 10,000-tonne estimated annual demand for the commodity in the island nation by the end of the decade, according to Silot early in March.

A TPJ team in February had visited the prospective sites for the new processing facilities – or in the case of Kampong Thom, a possible expansion of an existing installation, Silot revealed, suggesting that a location in Kampong Cham’s Stung Trang district could be near the border with Kampong Thom or Kratie. The three provinces intersect at a single point.

The CAC reported that Cambodia exported 670,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts to the tune of $1.077 billion in 2022, down more than a third from the previous year in terms of tonnage. Notable buyers included Vietnam, Japan and China – the first of which imported 660,000 tonnes, it said.

The area under cashew cultivation in Cambodia could drop by about 100,000ha from 2022 to 700,000ha this year. About 95 per cent of the Kingdom’s raw cashew nuts are exported to Vietnam.

According to the CAC, the world produced about five million tonnes of raw cashew nuts in 2021, with Cambodia accounting for the most at 1.18 million tonnes or 24 per cent of the total, followed by the Ivory Coast (1.1M tonnes; 22%), India (0.8M tonnes; 16%) and Vietnam (0.399M tonnes; 8%), while others represented 1.52 million tonnes (30%).

However, in 2022, Cambodia yielded just over 0.69 million tonnes, a drop of over two-fifths that has largely been blamed on extreme weather events.