Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the purchase of longans – an edible fruit similar to lychee, also of the soapberry family – from farmers in all provinces along the Cambodian-Thai border who have been unable to export their produce due to Covid-19 restrictions.
An indefinite Chinese ban on Thai longan imposed on August 13 over contamination with mealybugs has thrown a wrench into Cambodian exports of the fruit to the neighbouring country.
And industry insiders have voiced concern that as the harvest season ramps up in Cambodia, tens of thousands of tonnes of longan will be unable to reach their intended destinations as Thai traders and importers cancel orders, and a considerable portion of the fruit could be left to rot.
Cambodia’s longan harvest will then be distributed to frontline workers and border forces throughout Battambang province, according to government plans.
The announcement comes after more than 40 tonnes of longan transiting through Pailin province were recently spoiled after being stuck at the Doung International Border Checkpoint in Duong commune of Battambang province’s Kamrieng district due to border closure by Thai authorities over Covid-19 concerns.
Hing Bun Heang, deputy director of Hun Sen’s cabinet and the official who directly received the order to purchase all longans from Cambodia’s farmers, told The Post on August 17 that the longans would all be bought at the same price they would have fetched in Thailand.
He said the government purchase of longans would not do much to limit the available quantity of the fruit from other sources, because a great many farmers have them for sale.
“We will give the fruit to military, police and border forces that are fighting Covid-19 throughout Battambang province,” he said.
He said that if the purchased quantity exceeds demand for the whole of Battambang province, the team will still continue to buy longans and distribute them to the frontline forces in other provinces along the Cambodian-Thai border.
The Pailin Longan Grower’s Association’s vice-chairman Suon Chum said he and other members were aware of the news and were very happy that the head of government helped solve the members of their association’s problems so quickly.
“Pailin’s longan harvest just started this month . . . It’s just the starting month, when each farmer gathers their fruit, typically about 10 to 20 tonnes for each farmer. So it’s over this next month that the large-scale harvesting will take place,” he said.
According to Chum, the current market price for longans that wholesalers are paying ranges from 2,000 riel to 2,500 riel per kg, depending on the quality of the fruit. Traders resell them in Thailand at a price of about 25 Baht or 3,000 riel per kg.
He added that if possible, he would like to suggest that the government set up a specific location to collect and store the fruit so farmers can bring their produce there and sell it all in the same place to make things easier and avoid accidental spoilage.
In accordance with that suggestion, the provincial administration designated the Veal Bek Chan football field located next to the 5th military command base in Romchek 4 village of Ratanak commune in Battambang town and province as the location for all government purchases from the longan farmers, which will begin on August 18.
According to the Battambang Provincial Administration’s press release, the purchase of the longan harvest demonstrates decisiveness and ingenuity on the part of Cambodia’s national leadership as well as their care and compassion for the plight of ordinary Cambodians – such as these humble longan farmers – who would otherwise be facing financial catastrophe.