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Silk imports set to slide as sector suffers from crisis

Silk imports set to slide as sector suffers from crisis

090922_07
Weavers from Prek Chrey Lech village in Kandal province prepare a loom for weaving with imported silk thread.

But weavers say Cambodia needs to boost local production of raw silk to reduce reliance on thread from Vietnam and China.

IMPORTS of silk thread into Cambodia are expected to drop 25 percent this year on lower demand for silk products in the wake of the global economic crisis, the Khmer Silk Village Association said Monday.

Association Deputy Secretary Ke Muny said he anticipated that just 300 tonnes of the raw material would be brought into the country this year, down from 400 tonnes in 2008.

“We believe that this year’s importation of silk thread will decrease at least 100 tonnes compared to last year because many entrepreneurs have been reducing their productivity because of the ... global economic crisis,” Ke Muny said.

Almost all the silk thread used in Cambodia to produce scarves, sampots (traditional costumes) and purses for local and international markets is imported, with around 90 percent of imports coming from Vietnam and the remainder from China.

Only around 4 tonnes of silk thread is produced domestically, Ke Muny said. Association figures show silk imports cost around US$10 million last year, or $25,000 per tonne.

Men Sinoeun, executive director of the Artisans Association of Cambodia (AAC), a training and trade facilitation organisation that works directly with more than 42 social enterprises across the country, said members’ exports were likely to be worth only $2 million this year. Last year,
association members exported $2.7 million worth of silk products abroad, mostly to markets in the United States, Europe and Japan.

“Exports of silk products may decrease 26 percent this year, but we do not consider it a serious situation because we still hope that the world economy will recover next year,” Men Sinoeun said.

Domestic demand steady
Pheanuroth Sisowath, president of the Khmer Silk Village Association and project coordinator for the Sector Wide Silk Project, which brings together the silk sector’s key stakeholders, said despite the downturn in export orders, local demand for silk is still going strong. Locals buy around 70 percent of silk products produced in the country, with the remainder bought by tourists or exported, he said.

To meet this growing demand and capture more of the value chain in Cambodia, between $10 million and $20 million needs to be invested to develop the capacity to produce silk thread locally, Pheanuroth Sisowath said. “Silk products are more and more popular among Cambodian people, so Cambodia needs to inevst in silk-thread production to meet local demand.”

He added that Cambodia has plenty of land to plant the mulberry trees on which silkworms grow, but that the capital needed to produce large-scale silkworm-rearing operations is lacking.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced last week that it has launched a $475,000 project to develop a silkworm egg production centre as part of efforts to boost local production capacity. The project, which will take two years to get up and running,
will be capable of producing up to 5,000 cases of disease-free silkworms per year, the FAO said.

Under the project, seven demonstration farms will be set up in Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampot, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Pursat, Siem Reap, and Banteay Meanchey provinces to teach silkworm-raising techniques and cocoon-reeling techniques.

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