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The government’s policy to boost productivity performance in the agricultural sector has lit a fire under the Kingdom’s exports, with shipments of fresh chilli flaring up 27.08 per cent from 55,513 tonnes in 2019 to 70,546 tonnes in a spicy 2020, according to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon.
 
Battambang provincial Department of Agriculture director Chhim Vachira told The Post on January 7 that during this time last year, vegetable cultivation area in the province – chilli and otherwise – had exceeded 1,000ha, eclipsing the target by over 150 per cent.
 
He chalked up the increase in arable land to the government’s policy to strengthen and spice up the potential of agricultural products, while ensuring that their prices would be more encouraging than in 2019.
 
He said Battambang’s chilli cultivation area is set to expand in almost every district.
 
“In 2021, the price of chilli will be much higher than last year’s levels, and the market won’t hit any snags either. Provincial authorities will time and again egg farmers on to ramp up their crop production in a more consistent manner and in line with market demand.
 
“At the same time, we’ll also encourage them to incorporate training geared towards commercialisation and agricultural contracts into their farming concept,” Vachira said.
 
He boasted that chilli cultivation would also outstrip last year’s levels. “This is an example of agricultural product diversification aimed at boosting more exports,” he said.
 
As of last year’s end, there were 96 agricultural communities on a contract farming basis with companies or other buyers, according to Vachira.
 
Battambang provincial Department of Commerce director Kim Hout said that while 2020 fresh chilli yields in the province did not increase much over 2019, exports across the border to Thailand were more than 32,000 tonnes.
 
Hout said these accounted for more than 45 per cent of the Kingdom’s total exports, pointing to numbers from the agriculture ministry as reference.
 
He noted that prices for the piquant fruit at the border had seen a red-hot spike this year. “If the price situation shapes up like this and agricultural product markets remain as stable as they are now, I reckon that exports in 2021 will be even better.”
 
Meas Sophal, who owns chilli plantations in Kampong Thom, Siem Reap and Kampong Chhnang provinces, said unfavourable weather conditions were the main culprit behind the sharply-reduced yields suffered in 2020, which sent prices to their recent stratospheric levels.
 
Last year’s drop in output put an end to his ambition to buy the pungent fruit from farmers to dry and export to China, he lamented.
 
“Climate change took a heavy toll on chilli cultivation in 2020. But as I see it, with the price hike now, the amount of land used to grow chilli will unquestionably increase in 2021,” Sophal said.
 
According to Sophal, most chilli plants are planted between April and May, and are harvested two months later.
 
The Kingdom exported $4.04 billion worth of agricultural products last year, according to the agriculture ministry.
 
These included milled rice, paddy, cassava, cashew nuts, mangoes, natural rubber, yellow bananas, Pailin longan, fresh chilli, peppercorn, edible bird’s nest, as well as fisheries, animal and forest products.
The Phnom Penh Post 2021-01-08 17:28:19