Cambodia’s Farmers Thrive as Coronavirus Border Closures Keep Out Crop Competition

Farmers in Cambodia’s Battambang province are some of the few people in the country to benefit from efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak, saying they finally have a market for their crops and can earn a living now that the border of neighboring Thailand has closed due to the pandemic.

The farmers told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday that they no longer have to underbid competitors selling crops from Thailand, allowing them to double the price of their produce instead of being forced to take jobs as migrant workers across the border to earn a living.

Additionally, they said, middlemen now come directly to their farms to purchase crops, meaning they no longer need to transport them to the market and hope they find a buyer.

A 40-year-old farmer from Ek Phnom district named Chim Virak said that he has been able to sell corn, cucumbers, eggplants, and watermelon from his three hectares (7.5 acres) of land at top dollar, with plenty of demand.

He said he spent around U.S. $3,000 on his initial investment but expects to turn a healthy profit this year. As soon as his crops are ready, customers come to his fields to buy produce “regardless of the price,” which he said had increased from around 500 riel (U.S. $0.12) per kilogram to 1,800 riel (U.S. $0.44) most recently.

“If prices continue this way, I think our area’s farmers will be a lot wealthier within a few years,” he said, adding that in his village, “most people are growing vegetables.”

Prior to the outbreak, Chim Virak said, his cucumbers sold for between 250 and 600 riel (U.S. $0.06 and $0.15) per kilogram—if he could sell them. As of May, cucumbers were selling for 2,000 riel (U.S. $0.49) per kilogram, and he said he can sell his produce at even higher rates if he brings it to market himself.

While in previous seasons he was struggling to break even, Chim Virak said he had already made around U.S. $7,000.

“Our farms are rotating [producing different crops multiple times a year] and currently my watermelon is being harvested,” he said.

“In the past, we had to rely on middlemen to find buyers, but now I sell everything myself.”

Another farmer in Ek Phnom named Kim Kan said he had planted corn, watermelon, beans, and eggplant on two hectares (five acres) of land, spending about U.S. $300 of his own money and borrowing the same amount from a microfinance lender.

He said he is also making about twice as much as last year, with around U.S. $150 in profit.

“We are very happy that we are having such good business,” he said.

“Farmers have never seen this kind of price hike. Since the outbreak, buyers come straight to us. We don’t have any difficulty finding a market. Buyers are competing to purchase our crops.”

Thriving community

Kim Kan said said his community consists of 60 families farming on 120 hectares (300 acres) of land.

Despite their success, he said the farmers still lack an efficient water supply for their land and have spent “a lot of money” transporting water from a source about one kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) away to irrigate their crops. He and others urged the local government to build an irrigation ditch for them.

Ek Phnom district governor Mel Sophal told RFA that provincial authorities are working to build his constituents, who comprise around 160 farming families, a nine-kilometer (5.6-mile) irrigation system at a cost of around 400 million riel (U.S. $97,000).

“We want to make the area a ‘green zone,’ regardless of whether it is the dry or rainy season,” he said.

Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community president Theng Savoeun said local farmers are thriving because the closure of the country’s borders with Thailand and Vietnam has prevented retailers from flooding the market with imported vegetables.

He urged the government to put measures into place that continue to protect farmers from the price impacts of crop imports.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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