Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina on February 7 asked Japanese firm Top Planning Japan Co Ltd (TPJ), an exporter of local cashew nuts, to look into converting the shells into fuel, and processing the crop into different food products, as well as much-needed agricultural fertilisers.

This is according to a February 7 statement posted on the minister’s personal Facebook page, in conjunction with a meeting earlier that day at the ministry with a TPJ delegation headed by the company’s apparent boss, whom it did not name.

However, attached images show that the delegation was led by Tetsuo Murayama, whom MarketScreener identifies as a “representative director” at TPJ.

Speaking in the statement, Tina commended TPJ for processing local cashew nuts for sale to Japan – which he claimed are “very popular” among the Japanese – along with its other operations in the Kingdom, and credited the company with putting jobs in the hands of Cambodians.

The minister also welcomed the company’s plans to set up a large processing plant in the Kingdom that could drive up exports of Cambodian cashew nuts across the globe.

In Lai Huot, owner of Kampong Thom-based Chey Sambor Cashew Nut Processing Handicrafts, an enterprise that has worked with TPJ, told The Post on February 8 that she welcomes the minister’s proposal, which she said would lend impetus to Cambodia’s production diversification efforts should the company take him up on it.

“From where I stand, turning cashew nut shells into fuel is a splendid idea, since processors don’t really have a market for them. If they did, that’d bring a high level of additional value to production,” she said.

Working with TPJ, Chey Sambor began exporting cashew nuts to Japan in 2021, culminating in a total of over 45 tonnes by March 2022.

But then the following month, Tokyo began requesting additional certification concerning quality and compliance with packaging standards, requirements it had apparently waived in light of Covid-19, Lai Huot told The Post at the time.

The statement added that Tina instructed TPJ to adhere to environmental and packaging obligations, and advised the company to widen their marketing coverage to win more customers and garner more support from the Japanese markets and further afield.

“While transforming cashew nut shells into fuel would be a marvellous thing, the company should focus more on the prospect of processing the nuts into food products or agricultural fertilisers,” he said, stressing that the Kingdom is in considerable need of the latter.

For reference, the Ministry of Commerce reported that the value of the Kingdom’s imports of agricultural fertilisers and pesticides rose by six per cent on a yearly basis to more than $480 million in 2022, although it did not provide separate figures for the two items.

Tina also floated cooperation through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to grow Japonica rice in the Kingdom, to mill for export.

Following a JICA-backed feasibility study on the proposed processing plant, Murayama in October 2019 had commented to then-Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon that results suggested that Cambodian cashew nuts are more delectable than their counterparts in Vietnam, India and throughout Africa.

The Cashew nut Association of Cambodia (CAC) reported that the Kingdom exported 670,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts in 2022, worth $1.077 billion, down by 34.65 per cent on-year in terms of tonnage. Vietnam topped the list of buyers, importing 660,000 tonnes, down 37 per cent from 2021.