Crocodile farmers should let their baby reptiles grow to capture the increasing demand of crocodile skins in the global market, government officials and industry bodies said yesterday.
Since 2005, the government has been encouraging farmers to halt the export of baby crocodiles in favour of selling the skins when the reptile has matured. But a lack of money, infrastructure and technique means that progress has been slow, according to Heng Sovannara, the chief of Crocodile Development Division of the Fisheries and Administration.
“No matter how much crocodile skin we produce here, [it] will not be able to supply the market enough,” said Sovannara.
Crocodile skins, used to produce luxury goods like hand bags, fetch a much greater price than baby crocodiles sold to neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam.
A baby crocodile is sold for $12 to $14. It takes three years until a crocodile is big enough for their skin to be sold, but can bring in significantly depending on the quality.
A pilot-exporting project launched in 2012 brought the Association of Cambodian Crocodile Farm Development to Siem Reap (ACCFDSR) to encourage farmers to breed crocodiles for skin export.
More than 20,000 crocodile skins have been exported to Thailand since November 2012, according to Sen Rith, deputy president of ACCFDSR.
Rith, who owns two hectares of crocodile farm himself, said Cambodia cannot keep up with the pace of market demand.
“For the Thai market alone, the demand is more than 100,000 crocodile skins. We are able to supply around 20,000,” he said.
The Angkor Association of Crocodile Feeders in Siem Reap was established in early 2012, hoping to also export to Thailand.
Vice president of the recently founded association, Ung Visal said they expect to produce ten to twenty thousand skins in the next two years.
With 10 years of experience in crocodile business, Visal said that farmers still have a long way to go to produce a high standard of skin for export.
“The lack of technique and capital to invest remain the obstacles,” he said.
Some 357 crocodile farms are registered with the Ministry of Fisheries and Administration. About 50,000 baby crocodiles were exported in 2013.
The Association of Cambodian Crocodile Farm Development in Siem Reap is expecting to produce more than ten thousand skins for export next year and will be ready to expand the supply to China in the next two years, if negotiations between the two countries are approved.