Unexpected rains are taking their toll on Cambodia’s salt fields, with Kampot salt miners left unable to meet the country’s growing demand
A salt miner in Kampot province transports baskets of salt.
CAMBODIA's salt production has dropped sharply this year due to rainfall damage, officials and salt producers said Thursday.
"We expected to produce 100,000 tonnes of salt this year to meet market needs nationwide, but so far we have only been able to mine about 10,000 tonnes," said Chhun Hinn, director of Kampot's department of Industry, Mines and Energy.
He said that salt can only be mined between December and April when the weather is dry, and that the yield for April was unlikely to make up the shortfall.
"Even if we leave one month more for our salt production and the weather is good, we still won't be able to produce this amount of salt," he said. "I think this month we can produce only between 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes."
Chhun Hinn said also that the ministry had been expecting that salt production would rise in the 2008-09 season, following the improvement of local salt fields. But the fear of rain had led salt farmers to bring in their harvests prematurely, he added.
"Salt farmers are trying to collect salt that has not reached maturity due to their fears the rain will destroy yields," he said. He added that weather was an important variable for the local salt industry - with good weather the country could produce as much as 200,000 tonnes annually. "Salt production relies on the weather," he said.
But bad weather in early 2009 has cast a pall over the local salt industry, according to local producers and wholesalers. Kampot salt farmer Noun Phala said constant rain had ruined his harvest for the year, which was likely to fall well below the 2,000 tonnes he produced in 2007-08. "I don't know clearly how much salt I will get this season," he said. "I have one month more to produce salt, but I don't think that I can produce what I got last season. We do our business according to the weather."
Chhay Sochanny, a salt broker in Kampot, said that as well as a shortage of supply from bad weather, there had also been a drop off in demand following a flood of salt imports from Thailand. She said that imports had risen to counter the drop off in local production. "The imported salt will threaten my sales because it is whiter and cheaper than ours. Our salt is a bit dark this year because of the effects of the rain," she said, adding that she had suspended purchases of new stocks for the rest of the harvest season for fears she would not be able to sell them on to her clients in Phnom Penh, Stung Treng and Kandal.
We are worried ... and are trying to contact neighbouring countries.
Short supply has been reflected in the price of salt which has risen 20 percent since the beginning of the year to 1,440 (US$0.35) riels per kilogram.
Chhun Hinn said the year's shortages had forced the ministry to release its 10,000-tonne stocks built up over the last few years, which has already been depleted by high demand. "We are worried about this shortage and are now trying to contact neighbouring countries to import salt and help fulfill the demand," he said. "We have enough capital [to purchase] imports, but presently we are negotiating the price, which is a bit high."
He added that Kampot province is the sole location for salt production in Cambodia, and has over 3,000 hectares of salt production lands with over 700 farmers working on the sector, he said.