Salt production in Kampot province – Cambodia’s largest producer – remains just under 20 per cent below 2020 levels, as the harvest season nears its end, according to a senior provincial official.
Even so, industry players maintain that the Kingdom will not need to import the commodity this year, as it did in 2019 due to shortages.
In 2019, despite the warm-climate events produced by El Nino, heavy rainfall eroded salt production to just over 30,000 tonnes, prompting the Kingdom to import the commodity.
There is no official salt import data for 2019, but as a reference, in 2009 Cambodia imported 20,000 tonnes of salt from China at a cost of $2.2 million.
A study from the Salt Producers Community of Kampot-Kep (SPCKK), the Kingdom’s sole producers of the commodity, found that Cambodia needs, on average, between 80,000-100,000 tonnes of salt per year to satisfy domestic demand.
Bun Narin, a salt farmer in the province, told The Post on July 6 that he had completed his harvest over 10 days earlier.
He affirmed that unseasonal showers in March-May had reduced his output.
Narin explained that rain causes significant damage to fields, leaching salt out of the soil, which requires waiting for the sun to dry it before resuming the harvest.
This is why salt production fell this year over 2020, he said, pointing out that the total cultivation area and labour force remained constant.
“I think this year’s salt yield may fall slightly, but there will be no shortage for domestic consumption, which would require large-scale imports, like in the last few years.
“Although we now say that the salt produced can guarantee that domestic demand is met, obviously salt imports from neighbouring countries remain, especially salt sold at major markets, and industrial salt – used for washing clothes and making ice,” he said.
According to Narin, the price of salt sold at the marshes ranges from 8,000-12,000 riel per 50kg sack, depending on location and quality.
March and April are especially conducive to the salt harvest each year, when temperatures are very high.
Kampot provincial Department of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation director Sok Kim Choeun, said salt production in the province has reached 65,000 tonnes, or about 80 per cent of the volume logged in the same time last year.
The drop, he suggested, could be due to an earlier start to the rainy season this year.
“Although the weather in some places may still allow more salt to be harvested for a week, it won’t amount to much,” Kim Choeun lamented.
With 40,800 tonnes of salt in stock, Cambodia will not run out of salt for local consumption, he stressed. “Although this year’s output is lower than last year’s, Cambodia will not be short on salt, like in 2019,” he said.
According to Kim Choeun, 3,726ha of land are currently used for salt production in Kampot, similar to last year.
A report of the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation indicated that 4,748ha of land were used for salt production in the Kingdom last year, exclusively in Kampot and neighbouring Kep province.
If the weather is favourable, each hectare can produce about 20 tonnes of salt annually, from January to May, it said.
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 in 2017, which Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation data shows generated about $22 million.
Production further dipped in 2018, and then again in 2019.
And in a stunning reversal last year, that figure rocketed to 105,000 tonnes – 85,000 from Kampot and 20,000 from Kep, according to Kim Choeun.
The government authorised the SPCKK to import 30,000 tonnes of the commodity in 2019 citing a paucity of salt, the ministry reported.
But according to Kim Choeun, the Kingdom imported just around 10,000 tonnes of the allotted amount, with additional purchase plans scrapped amid optimism in early 2020 surrounding the year’s salt output.