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Sugar rush puts monster mill well ahead of target

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People watch as trucks offload sugarcane at Rui Feng Sugar’s processing plant last year in Preah Vihear province. Photo supplied

Sugar rush puts monster mill well ahead of target

Cambodia's biggest sugar mill has finished its two-month production run, producing half a million tonnes of refined white sugar, nearly five times what the company predicted at the beginning of the harvest season, a company representative said yesterday.

Kuy Yoeurn, an administrative manager for Rui Feng (Cambodia) International Co Ltd, said the second harvest season of its $360 million sugar plant in Preah Vihear province greatly exceeded the company’s expectations. He said the mill produced 500,000 tonnes of refined sugar from an undisclosed amount of raw sugarcane this season.

Yoeurn previously told The Post that this year’s production aimed to process 1 million tonnes of raw sugarcane to produce 100,000 tonnes of refined sugar.

The mammoth sugar mill, which opened in early 2016, processed just 10,000 tonnes of raw sugarcane during its first season.

Despite the massive increase in production, Yoeurn said the plant was still only operating at a fraction of its full capacity.

“Production of the sugar mill this year is more than double from last year, but there is still not enough [sugarcane] to fill the demand of the production line,” he said. “What we produced was only around half of our full capacity.”

According to its operator, the sugar mill is capable of processing 20,000 tonnes of sugarcane in a single day, turning it into 2,000 tonnes of refined sugar destined for buyers in the EU, China and India.

The Cambodian government granted Rui Feng Cambodia an 8,841-hectare economic land concession (ELC) in 2011. However, the Chinese-owned company and its four sister companies collectively hold five separate ELC licences covering 40,000 hectares.

Rui Feng has faced accusations of land-grabbing and using its partner firms to circumvent restrictions on the maximum legal size of land a company can hold as an ELC.

Nevertheless, Yoeurn said Rui Feng has requested that the Ministry of Agriculture provide the company with more land to expand its cultivation of sugarcane.

“We need to increase our sugarcane cultivation,” he said. “So far, we have already farmed all of our land and it is still not enough. The ministry should provide us with more land for cultivation.”

Lor Reaksmey, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, said that the government would not consider granting the company rights to more land. He urged the company instead to increase the scope of its contract farming with local farmers.

“We cannot provide further land to the company anymore,” he said. “The company can expand production by increasing its contracts with farmers and encouraging farmers to switch to sugarcane.”

Currently, Rui Feng has 107 contracts with farmers covering 350 hectares of land, he added.

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