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Meat imports rack up $100M tab

Workers process meat at the SLN slaughterhouse near Sihanoukville last year.
Workers process meat at the SLN slaughterhouse near Sihanoukville last year. Eliah Lillis

Meat imports rack up $100M tab

Cambodians spent over $100 million on imported meat last year, further widening the gap of domestic supply as local producers failed to capture the lucrative protein market, a government official said yesterday.

Lor Reaksmey, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, said Cambodia’s heavy dependence on foreign imports to supply the 280,000 tonnes of meat consumed in the Kingdom last year was a missed potential for domestic production.

“Cambodians spend a lot of money to supply meat to consumers and to bring in feed to meet market demands,” he said. “If we could meet the demand with our own domestic supply, it would add a huge amount of revenue to our local businesses.”

He said that according to the ministry’s figures, domestic supply of buffalo was 520,000 heads last year, a 6 percent decrease compared to 2015. Meanwhile, the Kingdom recorded a total of 2.9 million heads of cattle, a 3 percent decrease, while pig farming increased by 2.9 percent to 2.4 million hogs.

However, he added, despite having sufficient stock to cover domestic demand for meat consumption, only 1.3 million livestock were butchered last year, with a large share of the demand satisfied instead by imports.

“Our local meat supply is still limited and has limited capacities,” he said. “We have a free market economy, so that means that companies have to import in order to keep consumer costs low.”

Reaksmey said the ministry projects that meat consumption will grow to 290,000 tonnes next year and reach 300,000 tonnes by 2020.

“The gap between local supply and imports will continue to grow. However, the government is trying to encourage farmers to speed up meat production capabilities,” he said.

He added that the ministry was trying to identify the weaknesses in the industry, such as supply chain dynamics, in order to meet farmer’s needs and would put the brakes on imports if possible.

Srun Poav, director of the Cambodian Pig Farmers Association, said that the local pork industry currently had the capacity to meet 50 to 60 percent of market demand, supplying 3,000 of the 5,000 hogs sold to the market daily. However, he said the market was dogged by cheap, low-quality imports that lack any government oversight concerning health and hygiene.

“We could meet a large portion of market demand, but many pig farmers are close to going bankrupt because imports make farmers lose profits,” he said.

“The government pays no attention to our concerns over the domestic market and prices continue to go down.”

Tola Chea, general manager of SLN Meat Supplies Pty Ltd, the operator of a $22 million modern slaughterhouse near Sihanoukville that imports live cattle from Australia, said that the reason why the Kingdom’s domestic meat industry was slow to take off was because it has to be built from scratch.

“Cambodia has always focused primarily on crops and the lack of an industry is the main problem,” he said. “If the industry were to take off, farmers would need the incentives and the supply chain to scale-up operations and get their products to the market.”

However, he said this would cost millions worth of investment to develop while import supply chains were reliable and far more advanced. “How can you expect local farmers to expand their meat production when they are small operations that slaughter by hand?” he asked.

“What Cambodia needs is a few large-scale farmers and to form a private sector industry body that can help make guidelines and conduct research for the industry.”

In addition to the $100 million worth of pork, beef and chicken imports, Cambodia imported $135 million in animal feed and $15 million worth of animal vaccination products, according to government data.

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