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Jute factory near breakdown

Jute factory near breakdown

T he country's only factory producing rice sacks is slowly grinding to a halt, a

top factory official said. Production has dropped by half since 1992, he

said.

The plant in Battambang, which processes home-grown jute plants, is

now operating at only 30 percent capacity, said the manager, who declined to be

named. He has been at the factory since before the Khmer Rouge seized

power.

The plant, which has 655 employees, used to be capable of

processing enough jute to make the country self-sufficient in rice sacks. But

problems with aging machinery have meant that sacks now also have to be imported

from Vietnam and Thailand.

The machinery, which was installed when the

factory opened in 1967, is breaking down and there is no cash to pay for

desperately-needed repairs and spare parts, he said.

The official said

that a request for help had been made to the Ministry of Industry, which owns

the plant, but a reply had yet to arrive.

The plant worked up to a peak

production of 16,700 sacks a day but has now slipped back to 5,000 a

day.

The manager added: "The quality of the sacks is getting worse and

worse."

The factory was closed down and the machinery damaged by the

Khmer Rouge during their time in power.

Ingenuous repair work by

engineers got production restarted after the Pol Pot regime was toppled.

At first only 200 sacks a day were produced but managers were able to

coax the machines to get output up to 10,000 sacks a day.

The factory

takes the fibrous outer skin of jute plants and spins them into a rope-like

material, which is then further processed into the sacks, which are sold for

$0.50 each.

There is apparently no lack of raw material. During the

Post's visit to the factory one large warehouse was full of jute plants waiting

to be processed and another was three-quarters full.

The official said

however that the quality of the sacks has been hit by the lack of good standard

jute plant seeds.

He said: "In Pol Pot times the seeds were destroyed."

In 1978, when the official returned to the factory, he had to collect

what seeds he could find, planting them to produce enough to give to local

farmers to grow. But there are two types of jute, the rarer one of higher

quality.

During its initial years the factory was able to produce sacks

that had as much as 60 per cent of the higher quality jute. Now only 10 to 20

per cent of the sacks are of the higher quality jute.

The official thinks

that foreign governments and NGOs will send over seeds to solve the

problem.

However he says that OXFAM is the only NGO to have visited the

factory and seen the difficulties in maintaining production. And that was in

1989.

The British Ambassador David Burns did pay a visit just prior to

last May's elections.

The official said: "He saw the problems and donated

a little support for the factory."

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