The decline in the quantity, price and quality of cashew nuts this year has prompted farmers across Cambodia to cut down or abandon more than 100,000ha of trees, according to latest Cashew Nut Association of Cambodia (CAC) estimates, raising questions of international demand overestimations.

This figure represents more than an eighth of all cashews originally set to be harvested this year.

Additionally, the amount of trees felled or abandoned represent over a fifth of land listed in official data as being cashew plantations at 490,000ha. Recent satellite data from the CAC, in fact, showed nearly 800,000ha of cashew plantations scattered across the country.

Responding to the discrepancy, CAC president Uon Silot told The Post that the small number of official cashew plantations was due to 300,000ha of undesignated farmland being cultivated as “buffer areas”.

He said the association assessed that by end-2022, Cambodia would be able to produce between 570,000 and 600,000 tonnes of cashew nuts, but said this number was lower than expected due to the effects of the climate crisis.

Silot defended the CAC’s earlier production and price estimates as being “mostly” correct, affirming that they were derived based on information about demand, pricing and similar metrics from plantation visits, world markets and meteorological studies.

“In January 2022, we estimated that the yield of cashew nuts would fall by 10-30 per cent, then to 50 per cent. We know that there has been a lot of change in the area in which cashew nuts are being cultivated, as farmers have cut down a lot, especially in Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom and Stung Treng provinces,” he said.

But he conceded that farmers have been getting rid of younger cashew trees as they are “discouraged due to falling prices and yields”.

Nok Bunthon, a grower and president of the Kampong Thom Cashew Nut Association, told The Post that some farmers in the province had decided to cut down cashew trees and return to growing cassava in response to these negative factors.

“In addition to lower yields due to the weather, brokers have lowered prices, from about 4,000 riel [$0.99] to about 2,000 riel per kilogramme. Meanwhile, the price of fertiliser, labour and fuel have all risen, which has encouraged farmers to decide to cut down the trees, because if they were to keep them, the losses would be even worse,” he said.

“We have suggested that we, as a group, work with the CAC to issue advice about being patient [with the harvest] and use some methods to reduce costs.”

In Lai Huot, owner of Kampong Thom-based Chey Sambor Cashew Nut Processing Handicrafts, observed that procurement of cashew nuts from farmers has decreased this year due to weather conditions.

She said that Top Planning Japan Co Ltd (TPJ) was due to perform a final inspection of the enterprise’s facilities early next month to provide certification for export to the East Asian country. If successful, the product may be exported as early as July, at a rate of 10 tonnes per month.

“In the past, we had some concerns that the amount of cashew nuts would not meet the requirements of the Japanese company. But after we mentioned the difficulties in reducing the yield of cashew nuts due to the weather, the Japanese have been accommodating on this issue,” she said.

Data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries showed that in the first quarter of 2022, exports of raw cashew nuts amounted to 271,994.48 tonnes, a decrease of 39.67 per cent, while processed ones accounted for 213.41 tonnes, an increase of 311.83 per cent.

Vietnam and mainland China imported 271,980.90 tonnes and 13.58 tonnes of raw Cambodian cashew nuts, respectively, the latter of which was the top buyer of processed ones, at 123.38 tonnes, followed by Thailand (76 tonnes), Japan (12.10 tonnes) and Taiwan (1.93 tonnes).