Cassava

Cassava is a significant contributor to the agricultural sector in Cambodia. The planting, harvesting, processing and export of cassava provides jobs and livelihoods for thousands of Cambodians. Cassava is a significant cash crop for Cambodian farmers.1  Cassava production in Cambodia has increased substantially since 2006. Despite recent shocks to the market, cassava rapidly grew from an uncommon crop to the second-most reported crop produced on agricultural holdings.2

A staple food crop among the global poor in tropical and subtropical regions, cassava is a plant that produces a root high in carbohydrates that can survive in drought and poor soil. The plant also has relatively few pest and disease problems when grown in Southeast Asia.3 Traditionally grown on a small scale by poor farmers, cassava has been historically difficult to cultivate in mass because it is grown from stem cuttings that are difficult to handle and preserve. Cultivation of cassava is also highly labor-intensive. Increased demands for cassava worldwide are expected to lead to technological changes in the cultivation of the root.4 Today, cassava is grown in Battambang, Pailin, Banteay Meanchey, Kratie, and Kampong Thom provinces. It is planted in May and harvested between November and the end of February each year.5

Healthy cassava at CIAT plot in Cambodia. Photo by CIAT. Taken on March 25, 2014. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cassava industry

In December 2011, Cambodia entered into a trilateral project with UNDP and China that ended in March 2015. The project included training Cambodian cassava farmers and business matching to establish connections in the cassava trade market.6 Cassava planting areas in Cambodia expanded from less than 26,000 ha in 2003 to 400,000 ha in 20117 and then to 656,868 ha in 2021. Its yield is more than 12 million tons each year, or over 18 tons per hectare.8 Cassava was exported 3.29 million tons in 2019.9 Over 12 million tons of fresh cassava were collected in 2020.10 Cambodia exported 1,780,496 tons of fresh cassava to Vietnam and Thailand along with 1,202,644 tons of cassava chips in the first nine months of 2020.11 In the first four months of 2021, up from 1.3 million tons in the same period of 2020, Cambodia exported over 1.5 million tons of cassava to international markets such as Thailand, Vietnam, China, Italy, and the Netherlands.12

The Cambodian cassava industry is completely dependent on the border markets of Thailand and Vietnam which act as cassava trade-brokers between Cambodian and international and Chinese markets. The international markets, therefore, influence cassava demand. There are three types of cassava processing plants in Cambodia including dried chip, dried starch, and wet starch.13

Market price

Production of cassava in Cambodia began in 2001 and grew slowly until 2006 when there was a significant increase in demand and prices.14 Then in 2008, worldwide cassava prices crashed15, and the Thai/Cambodia border closed, eliminating a portion of the cassava trade market.16 Then, Thailand removed import restrictions on cassava in 2013.17 With the delaying of cassava harvesting due to flooding in 2020, cassava prices  increased to 350 riel (US$0.086) per kilogram of fresh cassava and 860-915 riel (US$0.21-0.22) for dried cassava while the traders would spend just 200 riel (US$0.049) for fresh cassava and 650-670 (US$0.16) for dried ones.18 The price of cassava is 330-370 riel ($0.08-0.09) per kilogram in 2021, surging from 220-260 riel in 2020, and cassava chips are going for 715-800 riel, up from 520-650 riel.19

Biofuel production

Packed with carbohydrates, cassava is a good crop to produce ethanol.20 Cambodia’s first bioethanol production plant was supported by an investment of US$40 million by MH Bioenergy Group of South Korea. The facility used flour as the primary raw material.21 The company stopped production due to the high prices of dry-chip cassava in April 2010. However, it is reopened in July 2010 when the annual seasonal harvest of cassava comes. Under a joint venture with MH Bioenergy Group, roughly 36 million liters of bioethanol is produced annually from cassava.22

Chinese biofuel firm Henan Tianguan Group and Cambodian Advanced Glory Logistics together created the first of many shipments of cassava chips to China for biofuel production in 2015.23 Cambodia is also attracting investment in domestic cassava biofuel production. Japanese company Idemitsu is conducting a three-year study to build a bioethanol production plant.24

New national policy

On January 14, 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a new national cassava policy to boost the production and export of Cambodian cassava. The landmark policy runs until 2025. This policy was developed by the government’s cassava working group and approved by the Royal Government of Cambodia on August 14, 2020.25

Related to Cassava

References

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