With Covid-19 cutting into Cambodians’ incomes and transforming consumer behaviour, the Kingdom is expected to see a Lunar New Year spending slump this year.
Corresponding to the first new moon of the lunar calendar, Lunar New Year this year falls on February 12, with celebrations kicking off the day before and lasting until February 14. The holiday is especially significant to Cambodians of Chinese or Vietnamese descent.
This lunar year will be the Year of the Ox. The ox is the second in the 12-animal lunar calendar.
Keo Sokha, a Phnom Penh-based shop owner of Vietnamese descent, said household income had declined during the global health crisis, forcing his family to cut back on purchases of food, fish, meat and joss paper for this year’s Lunar New Year celebration.
Joss paper, also known as “ghost” or “spirit money”, are papercrafts that have specific colours and markings which symbolise money or other storehold of wealth and are burned as offerings in deity or ancestor worship ceremonies on special holidays or observations.
Sokha said he would spend an estimated $150 for this year’s holiday, down from more than $250 in 2020, a feat easier said than done with consumer prices higher this year. A kilogramme of pork tenderloin on the market hiked from 30,000 riel ($7.50) last year to 50,000 now, he lamented.
“The Covid-19 issue has seriously affected my family’s livelihood, we have not sold much, so this year I’ll have less to offer the spirits of my ancestors because I don’t have much money,” said Sokha.
Another furniture seller in the capital, who asked not to be named, confirmed that her offerings will be more limited this year, with her family shelling out $1,000, or down a third from the $1,500 spent last year.
Reading off her list of expenses, she said $200 was spent on joss paper, $500 of two whole roasted pigs, nearly $100 on five roasted ducks and $300 in other assorted fruits, vegetables and foods.
“I’m preparing a smaller offering for this Lunar New Year. We want to cut down on some of our costs because sales are not doing so hot,” she said.
Sok Pheap, a roasted pig seller based at Orussey Market, also complained that subdued consumer spending had robbed him of sales this year.
Pointing at the suckling pigs hanging behind him, he said one whole hog – typically weighing between 5-7kg – costs 600,000 riel.
“I sell an average of 40-50 roasted whole hogs a day and expect to sell 100 daily during the Lunar New Year holiday. But sadly, the price has been driven up by the high price of live hogs, though,” he said.
Another anonymous roasted pig seller also reported selling 150 per cent more than usual these days, at 50 hogs, up from the usual daily 20. But sales were still a far cry from last year’s.
On the other hand, the owner of the Kim Long 2 flower shop in southeastern Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district said he had sold 300 pots of flowering angkeasil trees this year at $50-400 per unit, which is similar to last year in both prices and sales.
He said: “Border restrictions concerning the import of goods have made people turn to buying locally produced flowers.”
Angkeasil (Ochna integerrima) are small trees with yellow flowers that are popular during the Lunar New Year and have a wealth of folklore and superstition attached to them, including the belief that they ward off spirits.
Cambodia Livestock Raisers Association director Srun Pov said the price of live pigs had swelled to more $200 per hog in the lead-up to the holiday, pointing out that farmers had stopped raising the animals during the worst days of the pandemic, leading to insufficient supply of domestically-raised pigs.
Raisers have only recently resumed pig farming, presumably to capitalise on the upcoming celebrations and the increased demand, he said.
“Bearing in mind that the majority of people who buy pigs as Lunar New Year offerings are of the more affluent segment, the price won’t pose much of a problem for them,” he said.