Kandal crocodile farmer says prices for the animals are going up this year, driven by demand from the likes of China and Vietnam, but expansion remains difficult due to high interest rates.
I will expand my business by raising more baby crocodiles for export.
RAISING a young crocodile from a 70-gram hatchling to its full weight of more than 100 kilograms may seem an unusual and potentially dangerous vocation for some.
But Kaing Sarin has not only escaped unharmed for more than two decades pursuing his passion, he has also managed to turn it into a thriving export business.
Cambocroco Farm was launched with just four animals in 1987 in what later became one of Phnom Penh’s fastest-growing residential areas.
Even if his new Tuol Kork neighbours had tolerated a handful of crocs over the fence, rapid growth would have necessitated a shift to Kandal province’s Kandal Steung district, where 2,000 fully grown breeding crocodiles now cohabitate.
For those neighbours who might be nervous about the presence of the reptiles, the biggest of which measure more than 3 metres, Kaing Sarin has comforting words.
“Escapes are not a problem,” he said, gesturing to the concrete walls penning in the animals.
But even he trod carefully when in the vicinity of the beast, using catwalks over the pens to stay out of reach of the crocodile’s powerful jaws.
The crocodiles provide a steady supply of young for dinner plates in Thailand, Vietnam and, increasingly, China. With demand from Asian
consumers on the rise, so are prices, according to Kaing Sarin. “The prices are better this year than last,” he said. “I have sold between 7,000 and 8,000 baby crocodiles this year at US$15 per head. Last year I sold between 6,000 and 7,000 baby crocodiles at $8 to $10 per head.“
The young crocodiles were raised at the farm for the first three months of their lives. Following export, they tended to be fed for several more years before being sold and served for supper.
The farm contains a mix of the native Siamese crocodile species (Crocodylus siamensis) and saltwater crocs (Crocodylus porosus), which originated in Australia.
Although the farm already earns an annual profit of $10,000, Kaing Sarin said there was plenty more money to be made.
“I will expand my business by raising more baby crocodiles for export,” he said, noting a rising demand in China for crocodile meat.
Fashion industry a target
He was also looking at the fashion industry as a new revenue avenue, though a few obstacles stood in his way.
The Heng Long Company of Singapore calls for between 100,000 and 150,000 more crocodile skins from Cambodia than the country can provide each year.
Unfortunately for Cambocroco Farm, an audit by the company found the skins not up to scratch.
“Our skins were assessed by the Heng Long Company, but the quality is presently not good enough for the international marketplace,” Kaing Sarin said.
To preserve skin quality, animals need to be raised in individual pens to prevent them being damaged in fights or the general rough and tumble environment of a pen housing up to 100 crocs.
“We simply don’t have enough money or space to separate the crocodiles,” Kaing Sarin said. “I am very interested in the skin market, but I need more capital to improve our farming technique, and time to research.”
He has support for his expansion plans from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, but he faces a problem common to many small and medium-sized businesses in the country – high interest rates.
“If the banks decrease interest rates, we will borrow money to expand our business,” he said.
“We need to think long-term in the agriculture business because we don’t have steady income from year-to-year.”
Kaing Sarin said his interest in crocodile farming was originally triggered by books, and that since then he has largely taught himself, with a bit of help from the animals themselves.
“I don’t have a certificate for raising crocodiles,” he said. “I have only practical research from years of experience with the animals.”
Cambocroco Farm provides jobs for 10 people, but the major expense is food for the inhabitants, who eat their way through 3 tonnes every 10 days.
The main diet is fish heads, which he buys from the Fish Centre in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, but snakes and mice find themselves on the menu on special occasions.
It is the cost of food that is the biggest obstacle to survival, Kaing Sarin said.
“The biggest expense to raising crocodiles is their food,” he said, “but by building a strong relationship with our customers our farm has prospered while some others have gone bankrupt because they cannot make enough money to feed their crocodiles.”