Cambodia exported more than 11,000 tonnes of palm oil in the first quarter of 2022, representing a nearly four per cent decrease year-on-year, the latest agriculture ministry data has revealed.

According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cambodia exported 11,360 tonnes of palm oil from January to March 2022, a decrease of 3.62 per cent from the same period last year. India was the largest export market with 9,700 tonnes, followed by Malaysia with 1,500 tonnes and Thailand at 160 tonnes.

An agro-industrial crop, palm oil is an important raw material that is processed primarily as food, biofuel, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Mong Reththy is the board chairman of namesake conglomerate Mong Reththy Group Co Ltd, Cambodia’s largest palm oil exporter. He attributed the decline of exports of the commodity earlier this year to the advanced age of most of Cambodia’s population of oil palm trees – with a majority of them over two decades old – which has caused yields to fall.

“Some of the oil palms are now 25 years old, and this is a time [in their lifespan] where yields decline, despite the favourable weather. I guess in the next few months, palm oil yields will not increase much,” he said.

Reththy added that his company is aiming to expand its cultivation of oil palms to 30,000ha, from its current 20,000ha, but said they were not yet able to expand further due to insufficient rainfall in other provinces compared to their current base in the Preah Sihanouk region.

Compared to other countries in the ASEAN region, such as Thailand and Malaysia, the cultivation of oil palms makes up a relatively small share of Cambodian agriculture.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng said that the limited nature of palm oil production in the Kingdom means it is not yet in a position to be able to attract investment in processing plants for the commodity.

“The amount of palm oil harvested by Mong Reththy Group Co Ltd until recently has been low, so [the company] could neither supply the processing plants nor attract investment in the factories,” he said.

He noted that some companies have invested in oil palm plantations in places such as Mondulkiri province, but that these ventures have failed thus far due to the region facing a lack of rainfall.

However, the CCC vice-president struck an optimistic tone, saying that he expects there may be small-scale factories in the future that process locally harvested palm oil into cooking oil or other products “to reduce low-cost raw materials exports, and increase the export of high-value processed products”.

According to data from the agriculture ministry, Cambodia exported 62,217 tonnes of palm oil in 2021, up by 14.22 per cent compared to 2020, with 48,977 tonnes exported to India and 13,240 tonnes to Malaysia.