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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cambodia: Cashew market crumbling

The dearth of domestic cashew processing plants means many farmers are abandoning the nut and growing more profitable crops: rubber and cassava. Faced with a stagnant market for local cashews, farmers of the high-end nut are switching to other crops, according to local agriculture experts. Without domestic processing plants to purchase cashews, farmers are forced to sell to the nearest buyer, Vietnam, which is one of the world's biggest cashew processors and exporters, according to Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.

Cashews in Cambodia are harvested mainly in the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom and Ratanakkiri, which are near Vietnam. "Currently, the cashew nut market in Cambodia is very small, and what we export to Vietnam is just raw product so Cambodian farmers get a bad price," said Yang Saing Koma.

Vietnam imported about 150,000 tonnes of cashews from Cambodia and South Africa in the first half of 2008. The country has exported about US$850 million worth of cashews this year, according to a Vietnamese news report. Yang Saing Koma said that in Cambodia the industry would continue to decline unless local processing infrastructure was developed to provide Cambodian farmers a deeper pool of buyers.

Cambodia's only cashew processing plant, the now- defunct CAMAG in Kampong Cham, used to purchase a minuscule 150 tonnes per year, according to Tim Purcell, an agriculture specialist based in Phnom Penh with the NGO Agriculture Development International. A June 2007 report from the Economic Institute forecasted a decline in the domestic cashew industry.

The agency warned that by exporting 95 percent of its raw product to Vietnam, Cambodia was forgoing too much of the value-added chain for its cashew industry to remain profitable. According to the EIC report, the main barrier to investment in processing plants in Cambodia is staggering energy costs, which remain significantly higher than in Thailand and Vietnam. Farmers who once dedicated their fields to cashews are now growing rubber and cassava.

"Cashew nuts are only exported to Vietnam, there's really no local market. But with cassava and rubber, they are purchased by local companies at competitive prices," said Suon Dy, head of the Department of Industry, Mines and Energy in Kampong Cham. He said that at current market prices, one hectare of cashews yields around US$1,000 worth of product per year, compared with nearly $2,500 for rubber and cassava.

Global demand for rubber and cassava has climbed in recent years.
Cassava is used to produce ethanol, one of the main alternative fuels promoted by the global campaign against climate change. Natural rubber has also been increasingly prized, by China especially, following dramatic hikes in the price of oil, as it is used to make its synthetic alternative. Local processing conditions also favour the prospects for both crops: Cambodia processes about half the cassava it grows, and by law refines all of its locally harvested rubber.

Meas Sothearvy, head of the agriculture ministry's statistics office, said that while it was too early to tally nationwide yields for this year's harvest, inspections suggest there are significant declines in cashews. For 37-year-old Prum Chorn and others in the former cashew growing district of Memot in Kampong Cham province, the benefits of switching to rubber crops were overwhelming. "Cashew nut yields once a year and is bought at low prices from middlemen to go to Vietnam," he said.

"Rubber yields daily and is purchased at high prices from rubber factories within the province." Similarly, Ing Taingleng, 73, from Kampong Thom's Baray district, said he's following the lead of other farmers in the province and this year would replace half of his 20-hectare cashew farm with rubber crops. "The price of cashew nuts has not changed for several years now; it's still $500 to $700 a ton depending on the quality," he said.

"And we can only export to Vietnam. With rubber, the price is going up a lot and there is a strong market in Cambodia."
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Cambodia wants to discuss temple dispute at next meeting: Thai FM

BANGKOK, (TNA) - Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat on Tuesday revealed that Cambodia wants to raise a border demarcation dispute over Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temple ruins for discussion with Thailand at the next Foreign Ministers' meeting.

Interviewed on the telephone after chairing the Informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in New York, Mr. Sompong said that he had reported to the Meeting the results of the two rounds of talks between the Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers on resolving the border tension between the two neighbouring countries.

Participants were informed that progress was made in the talks as both countries have agreed to reduce their respective military forces stationed in the disputed areas to 30 each and are working towards a further cut in forces.

He said Cambodian officials informed the meeting of their desire to raise the border dispute over Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temples for discussion with Thailand.

It is expected the issue would be brought up for discussion when Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat visits Cambodia on October 13 at the invitation of his Cambodian counterpart Somdej Hun Sen.

"ASEAN members were satisfied when we told them that both countries understood each other and saw a need to adhere to the bilateral talks to solve the border dispute.

"The United Nations Secretary-General told the ASEAN Meeting that he had been informed of the progress in the Thai-Cambodian talks on the dispute.

"The UN chief also expressed a desire to see both countries attempt to settle the dispute through bilateral talks, not the UN Security Council," he said.

Mr. Sompong said no ASEAN members questioned Thailand's readiness to serve as ASEAN chair.

The Minister said he decided to join the meeting in New York to assure ASEAN colleagues of Thailand's readiness to organise the ASEAN Summit in December.

He added that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had agreed to visit Thailand on December 18 to attend the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok. (TNA)

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Cambodia golf courses aim to hit tourists

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia's efforts to attract high-end tourists by developing a world class golfing scene in the space of just a few years appears to have paid off, with a major regional golf tour company preparing to showcase the courses in Europe.

Golfasian, which is based in Thailand, said it would promote Cambodia alongside neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam at the International Golf Travel Market in Marbella, Spain from November 11-14.

Cambodia will be marketed as an exciting new regional golf destination at the event, billed as the world's premier golf travel expo and credited with making or breaking emerging hot destinations, it said.

At last year's event, neighbouring Vietnam won the International Association of Golf Tour Operators' World's Best Up-and-Coming Golf Destination award and has since reaped plenty in golfing tourism dollars. Cambodia is in the midst of a tourism boom and is keen to earn similar recognition in the lucrative golf tourism market.

"Golf holidays in Cambodia are a new introduction, yet pioneering golfers are finding it a fascinating country in which to play a few rounds," Golfasian says on its website.

"Cambodia doubled its number of luxury golf courses last year to four and hopes to have eight by 2010 in a bid to lure more high-end tourism from the fast-growing sport in Asia."

Golfing legend Nick Faldo's company designed a PGA-standard course in Siem Reap, the country's tourist hub about 300 kilometres north of the capital, where golfers are offered the chance to tour the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex between rounds.

And Arnold Palmer Design Company, named after its famous founder, is currently building a 36-hole course for a new billion-dollar five-star resort in Bokor, 200 kilometres south of the capital.

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