Cambodia has received a first batch of salt imported from India, after unseasonable rains since the beginning of the year melted away domestic yields below half of the expected nationwide demand for 2022.

Salt production reached around 40,000 tonnes in 2022, compared to more than 75,000 tonnes in 2021, according to the General Department of Small and Medium Enterprises and Handicrafts under the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation.

The coastal provinces of Kampot and Kep are Cambodia’s primary salt producers, and the harvest season typically lasts from late December to mid-May, or even until June with hotter and drier conditions.

A ministry official who declined to be named confirmed that the 2022 salt harvest season ended in late May, and that annual nationwide demand was currently pegged at 90,000-100,000 tonnes.

Speaking to The Post on August 2 from Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP), top salt industry player Bun Baraing confirmed that the initial batch of “more than 4,000 tonnes” of salt he imported had just arrived at PPAP, and that “workers are preparing to move it into storage, to be ready for sale on the market”.

He attributed this year’s woefully insufficient salt production to climate change, noting that the total area allotted for salt production as well as labour-related indicators have remained relatively unchanged.

The ministry reported that the total area under salt production in Kampot and Kep provinces was 4,748ha in 2021, which yield an average of 20 tonnes per hectare each year with good weather.

Baraing said that the government, prompted by the sharp decline in output, recently issued a policy allowing the private sector to import “about 60,000 tonnes” of salt per annum to avoid crises as a result of shortages of or uncontrollable surges in prices for the commodity.

He shared that, for the foreseeable future, the Kingdom plans to import salt exclusively from India, commenting that their product is “natural” and “as good as the salt produced in Cambodia”.

Industry minister Cham Prasidh revealed at a February 7 meeting that his ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy and Finance, is preparing a 2022-2026 development strategy for the salt sector, in a bid to develop, manage and conserve the salt marshes of Kampot and Kep provinces, and improve the economic efficiency of salt production.

He underlined that the five-year strategy is designed with policy measures that encourage salt production in a manner that is “proper, transparent and accountable”, with a view to ensuring the optimal allocation and distribution of resources with minimum wastage.

One of the key issues that needs to be addressed in the field is the rehabilitation of abandoned or neglected salt fields that remain in the books, he stressed.

Official figures show that salt production in the Kingdom soared from 80,000 tonnes in 2013 to 147,000 in 2014 and then to 175,172 in 2015, before falling back to 143,145 tonnes in 2016.

It then plummeted to a dismal 33,058 tonnes in 2017. Production further dipped in 2018, and then again in 2019. The industry ministry reported that Cambodia imported about 10,000 tonnes of salt in 2019. The Post understands that Cambodia has only ever imported salt from India and mainland China, with the latest shipment from the latter arriving back in 2018.