Cambodia announced that it would import 30,000 tonnes of salt to meet demand as the Kingdom’s production was insufficient last year, even after it had imported 10,000 tonnes of the commodity from China.
Thyda Thaung, the managing director of Thaung Enterprise, spoke with The Post’s Cheng Sokhorng to elaborate on the sea salt industry and the challenges faced in reaching both domestic as well as international markets.
How did you get into the sea salt business?
I was born into a family which has produced salt for 30 years. I am the new generation and want to do something better to contribute to my community, so I decided to transform my family business into an enterprise in 2016 and registered at the Ministry of Commerce in 2017.
Recently I worked on a 50ha cooperative salt farm with other farmers and annually produce up to 10,000 tonnes of the commodity.
What business potential do you see in the salt industry?
We cannot survive without salt. While we already have natural sea salt on hand, why don’t we bring our salt up to standard and boost recognition in ours and international markets?
What we need to do now is to promote our standards-compliant sea salt with hygienic packaging, and high enough quality to be listed as a safe food product.
At the moment, we have been nominated under the Ark of Taste, meaning we are under the Slow Food Foundation’s category of “Good, Clean & Fair Product”.
We are proud of the international recognition. It is a huge potential business opportunity for me, I am not only promoting my sea salt but I could add more value to national products and boost revenues for our farmers. Our salt farmers will have more courage and be proud of their production.
How do you promote the product as high-quality?
To promote awareness of our salt quality, we need time to build confidence in our people and international markets, making sure that only safe and high-quality salt makes it for consumption. We need to promote our salt production.
Our salt products are currently stocked in supermarkets such as Aeon Mall and organic shops, luxury hotels and restaurants as well as in other countries.
The most fulfilling recent achievement for us is penetrating the Japanese market, which means our quality products have been accepted. I am surprised to see the results after finishing laboratory tests. This is good recognition for us to continue our business.
What challenges do you face as a salt farmer and producer?
Challenges for the Kingdom’s salt industry still linger. Our salt depends on natural resources as well as the sun to dry. Consequently, climate change is our main challenge – rain during the salt production period will impact our production.
Industry development growth is also a challenge as we are faced with labour shortages and cannot afford to hire enough salt farmers and collectors to sustain salt production as labour costs keep rising.
Salt farmers no longer want to continue farming – they want to sell their salt farms to property developers. That’s a big issue for the salt industry.
If we no longer have salt farmers, our salt products will see a shortage from time to time, and one day we will no longer have a domestic salt industry and have to rely on imports.
What should the government do to help the salt industry?
Sea salt production is very limited globally. Farmers are like a small colony of ants, which have a strong commitment to the industry.
However, we still need strong support from our government and relevant institutions behind us on this too. We cannot stop development, but the government has to conserve areas for salt production.
Without salt farms, not just will the salt be gone and force us to rely more on imported salt, but the tradition and culture of salt farmers since time immemorial will disappear along with it.
Thus, what we hope is that the Ministry of Commerce considers taking action for a feasibility study to obtain Geographical Identification status as soon as possible to motivate our farmers who are already on a potentially successful path in the industry.
Above all, we truly hope that plans for an SME [small- and medium- enterprise] bank will bear fruit soon as it would be very helpful to the salt farmers and producers from a financial sense as loans can be obtained to grow the salt industry.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.