Cambodia and China have signed a joint phytosanitary protocol for banana exports – a move that will open the door for the Kingdom to export more fruits to the world’s largest consumer market.
Longmate Agriculture Co Ltd, a joint venture between local, Chinese and Hong Kong investors, has invested millions of dollars in a banana plantation in Kampot province’s Chhou district to tap the potential of the crop.
The Post’s Cheng Sokhorng sat down with Hun Lak, the company’s director, to talk about the potential of banana exports and how farmers will benefit from the new markets.
Why did you decide to invest in a banana plantation?
Cambodia is outstanding in the rice industry and our rice exports are already well known. The Ministry of Agriculture is promoting the export of fruits such as longan, dragon fruit, durian, mango and banana.
Bananas have potential and there is a high demand for it in the international market.
We have the right technicians and a variety of banana from abroad called Musa Cavendishii, so we decided to plant bananas on our land.
We have a passion to show the international market that we have the capacity to produce quality bananas to supply the world market.
How big was your investment in the banana plantation?
We spent over a year studying the plantation soil before we started. Our plot is 1,000 hectares, so we invested a total of $32 million with our two partners from Hong Kong and China.
In the first phase, we planted 400 hectares with each planted with 2,500 banana trees. It takes 10 months to harvest the first batch.
When do you expect to export to China?
We are now preparing documentation to meet the criteria. We plan to be among the first Cambodian banana exporters to China by January next year.
Based on our target, we expect to export four or five 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs). And then we will continue to raise production to keep up with demand.
What are the differences between your banana variety and the type typically grown in the Kingdom?
Cambodian bananas have good flavour, but the challenge is that they cannot be kept for long, and damage or bruise easily. Hence, we cannot export them.
However, we are cooperating with an agricultural lab to research new types that are stronger and can reach export destinations.
So what will the benefit be to local farmers?
First, we need major investors to come and help with the first batch of exports so that we can build trust in the quality of our fruits. Then, the small or medium farmers can follow the model and use our techniques to meet growing demand.
When we have a strong market, the industry will grow itself and bring benefits to the whole sector.
Small farmers should set up cooperatives to scale up supply to meet market needs. Also, our newly developed banana varieties will be given out on a contract farming basis.
Our company has already created 500 jobs, and by the end of the year, we will have created nearly 1,000. Our employees don’t need to move and work in another country as they can stay and provide for their families in Cambodia itself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.