Unseasonal rains and adverse climatic conditions have decimated Cambodia’s salt production, and as the harvest season comes to a close, industry insiders fear output could end up as low as one-fifth of last year’s levels, obliging the Kingdom to import the essential mineral to meet domestic demand.
The coastal provinces of Kampot and Kep are Cambodia’s primary salt producers, and the harvest season typically lasts from late December to mid-May, or even until June with hotter and drier conditions.
But the door is closing on time to collect salt, with the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology declaring May 15 as the official beginning of the rainy season.
Bun Narin, owner of Kampot town-based Thaung Enterprise, suggested that this season’s salt yields could register a 75-80 per cent year-on-year drop due to persistent showers from end-February, resulting in shortages and imports of the commodity this year.
For reference, according to the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation’s Department of Handicraft Affairs, Cambodia produced more than 75,000 tonnes of salt in 2021, down by over 20,000 tonnes from a year earlier – although Kampot provincial Department of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation director Sok Kim Choeun previously gave 2020’s figure at 105,000 tonnes.
Narin explained to The Post on May 17 that farmers require warm weather and a rainless period of at least 10 days to produce salt. To allay the situation, some farmers took to storing seawater in desalination systems to separate salt by evaporation, in hopes that the dry season would allow enough time, he said.
With salt stockpiles running lower than usual, prices of the commodity have spiralled, reaching 21,000 riel ($5.17) per 50kg sack in Boeung Touk commune of Kampot’s Bokor town over “the past couple of days”, he noted. He previously quoted 15,000-16,000 riel on March 22, which he said had been up from 12,000 riel in the same time last year.
Narin also shared that Cambodian salt is natural, meets recognised quality and other standards, and is exported to some European markets.
In previous years with similar shortfalls, companies stepped in and imported salt to supply the domestic market. Bun Baraing, the owner of one such firm, believes that salt yields in 2022 will be woefully insufficient to satiate local demand, requiring imports.
He pointed out that Cambodia has purchased the mineral from China and India during such shortages.
Official figures show that salt production in the provinces soared from 80,000 tonnes in 2013 to 147,000 in 2014 and then to 175,172 in 2015, before falling back to 143,145 tonnes in 2016.
It then plummeted to a dismal 33,058 tonnes in 2017. Production further dipped in 2018, and then again in 2019. The industry ministry reported that the Kingdom imported about 10,000 tonnes of salt in 2019.
Preliminary data shows that Kampot province’s yields currently stand at about 30,000 tonnes – or two-fifths of the handicraft affairs department’s nationwide figure for full year 2021 – and stockpiles could amount to 2,000-3,000 tonnes, according to Kim Choeun, the Kampot provincial industry department director.
“[But] now that the rainy season has arrived, that’ll be it for the salt harvest this year. Overall, this year’s salt yields will be much lower than last year,” he said, affirming that the industry ministry and relevant government agencies were mulling imports to meet local demand and prevent price gouging.
The ministry reported that the total area under salt production in Kampot and Kep provinces was 4,748ha in 2021, which yield an average of 20 tonnes per hectare each year with good weather.
Kim Choeun said Kampot’s 3,726ha of salt fields – or 78.5 per cent of the nationwide total – produced more than 68,000 tonnes last year, adding that the production area and the size of the labour force was largely unchanged this year.