Climate change is substantially slowing down production of salt in Kampot province, Cambodia’s largest producer, and fears of a significant decrease in output may encourage imports of the commodity to supply domestic demand, according to insiders.
The vast majority of the Kingdom’s salt farms are in Kampot and neighbouring Kep province. The harvest season typically falls between early January and May each year.
Bun Narin, owner of Kampot-based Thaung Enterprise, told The Post on March 22 that March and April are the peak months of the harvest season, but that unseasonal rains – especially from last week with showers almost every day – have led to disappointing output over the first three weeks of this month, and threaten overall salt production in 2022.
“Although this year we started harvesting from the beginning of January, by the beginning of March, most of the salt production areas in Kampot province were severely affected by the rains, and the harvest has remained small thus far. Salt production is expected to be lower this year than last year,” he said.
The effects of climate change have become increasing clear over the last four or five years, greatly affecting the production and harvest of salt, according to Narin.
“In a year when the weather is favourable, by March, salt production would reach 40,000 tonnes,” he said. To date, salt yields in Kampot province have reached nearly 20,000 tonnes, according to provincial Department of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation director Sok Kimchoeun.
On March 22, wholesale salt prices at production sites were 15,000-16,000 riel ($3.75-4.00) per 50kg sack, up from 12,000 riel during the same time last year, Narin said.
Aside from weather issues, the salt industry in Cambodia is also facing a shortage of labour, he said, noting that the “more than 40” workers employed at his site just a few years back had dwindled to a mere 10.
“A lack of manpower has also contributed to the decline in harvests, because in the past, when the weather was not good, we’d still have the workers to harvest in order to have enough stockpiles, but now there aren’t many,” he said.
Bun Baraing, a salt producer in Kampot, confirmed that it has been raining almost daily in salt producing areas this month, and investors and other stakeholders have become discouraged.
He reasoned that importing salt to supply domestic demand may be inevitable, arguing that this year’s salt production may be on track to fall below the levels seen over the past two-to-three years.
“I have never seen it rain almost every day during the dry season like it has this year. Salt investors are staring at some serious losses this year,” he said.
Baraing noted that in previous years of significant salt shortages, Cambodia had turned to China and India for imports.
The head of the Kampot provincial industry department noted that farmers need up to 10 days to start producing salt again after heavy rains, saying that “another two or three weeks” of such weather would substantially devastate the province’s total salt output this year.
Kimchoeun said: “Salt production in Cambodia is completely dependent on the weather, so if the weather is unfavourable, yields will fall.”
According to him, in 2021, Kampot province produced more than 68,000 tonnes of salt on 3,726ha of marshes, an area that will remain the same in 2022.
The Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation reported that in 2020, the area under salt cultivation in Kampot and Kep provinces stood at 4,748ha. With favourable weather, each hectare can produce an average of 20 tonnes per year, it said.
In 2014-2016, Cambodia harvested more than 100,000 tonnes of salt each year. However, production has been steadily declining since 2017. A ministry report shows that in 2019, the Kingdom imported about 10,000 tonnes of salt.