About 15,000 tonnes of natural salt imported from India are now in stock to meet local demand, after adverse weather conditions dragged down domestic salt production this year to under 40,000 tonnes, roughly 30,000-60,000 tonnes fewer than estimates for annual nationwide consumption, according to industry insiders.
By comparison, salt production reached around 75,000 tonnes in 2021, according to the General Department of Small and Medium Enterprises and Handicrafts (GD-SMEH) under the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation.
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.
The ministry reported that the total area under salt production in Kampot and Kep provinces was 4,748ha in 2021 and had not significantly changed in 2022, with each hectare yielding an average of 20 tonnes each year under good weather conditions.
Top salt industry player Bun Baraing confirmed to The Post on October 20 that the initial batch of Indian salt weighing “more than 4,000 tonnes” arrived at Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP) on August 2, and that the 15,000 tonnes imported to date – exclusively by his business – have been moved into warehouses.
This represents roughly one-quarter of the 60,000-tonne annual salt import limit that the government recently authorised for the private sector, prompted by the sharp decline in output, which Baraing pinned on the high levels of rainfall seen in the beginning of the year.
“Imports are ongoing, but once domestic production picks up, we’ll stop importing immediately,” he affirmed. “We guarantee that we’ll import enough salt to meet demand, but we also guarantee that it won’t undermine domestic production.”
The Kampot-based salt producer stressed that the imported product is natural and goes through a quality inspection by ministry experts before it is moved into warehouses, and hence meets the relevant standards.
Baraing shared that the Indian salt is currently sold on the local market at 27,000-28,000 riel ($6.75-7) per 50kg sack, which he said is similar to prices for domestically-produced equivalent.
Bun Narin, owner of Thaung Enterprise based in Kampot town, revealed that salt warehouses near the fields are essentially out of stock, although he suggested that depots near the capital and other urbanised areas should hold small amounts.
Nonetheless, Narin put the current going-rate of 50kg sacks of salt at 25,000-30,000 riel, which he said had not changed significantly compared to the same time last year.
“I don’t know much about the quality of the imported salt, but imports are necessary to meet domestic demand,” he said.
Kampot provincial Department of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation director Sok Kim Choeun noted that salt output in his province reached just 30,000 tonnes this year – roughly three-fourths of the national total – despite production areas and labour supply remaining at similar levels to 2021.
He claimed that favourable weather conditions over three consecutive months during the Cambodian salt season guarantees enough output to meet consumption for the year. “But it’s been very rainy since the beginning of the year, requiring Cambodia to import salt to meet demand.”
Official figures show that salt production in the Kingdom 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 ministry reported that Cambodia imported about 10,000 tonnes of salt in 2019. The Post understands that Cambodia has only ever imported salt from India and mainland China, with the latest shipment from the latter arriving back in 2018.
And according to Kim Choeun, output rocketed to 105,000 tonnes in 2020 – 85,000 from Kampot and 20,000 from Kep.