Despite huge amounts of potential and a well-rooted past, the Kingdom’s cotton cultivation industry seems to be hanging by a thread.
Though the country relies heavily on cotton fabric in its massive garment sector, insiders say Cambodian farmers have mostly abandoned the crop.
Sok Vanna, the deputy director of the industrial crop department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said cotton has not been on the ministry’s radar for many years. He claimed farmers have moved to cassava, corn, beans or cashew nuts.
“In the past few decades, even though farmers are still growing cotton, we do not have any data on the crop,” he said.
According to Vanna, cotton was cultivated in Battambang , Preah Vihear , and Kampong Cham provinces in the past. He said sometime in the last 10 years, there was even a processing factory in Kampong Cham.
The director of that province’s agriculture department, Kim Savoeurn, however, said farmers in the area had ditched the crop years ago.
“Farmers stopped growing cotton in favour of cassava, beans, and cashew nuts as those had greater market demand,” he said.
The deputy director of the Battambang provincial agriculture department, In Sovanmony, said that cotton cultivation is no longer practised in his province either.
“We do not have any data as to how many smallholders are still farming [cotton]. It has gone as there is no market to sell it now. Before there used to be a cotton factory, Seladamex, but it changed operations,” he said.
Seladamex Co Ltd entered the cotton industry in 2009 and claimed to cultivate 1,200ha, in addition to investing $2 million in a processing plant.
The cotton industry began to decline during the Khmer Rouge era when nearly all agricultural resources were made to focus on rice production.
Between 1965 and 1975, the industry – established by the French – thrived, and thousands of acres of the crop were harvested each year.
Although cotton growing continued under the Pol Pot regime, a lack of market for the cotton, and years of insect infestation led Cambodian farmers to all but give up on it by 1985.