The prices for Cambodian agricultural products have declined in parallel with the global economic crisis, with farmers along the borders of Thailand and Vietnam reporting more and more difficulties in their daily lives.
Under lower prices, farmers are struggling to pay interest on their debts, and they are watching the prices for their cassava, corn and rice plummet.
Cassava’s market value has halved in the past year, down to 300 riel, or $0.70, per kilogram. Corn’s value has done about the same.
Living with 10 children in a village in the former Khmer Rouge area of Samlot, in Battambang province, 45-year-old Soth Taharch said seed prices were high but final sale prices weren’t.
“I will keep planting, even if the product is cheap, as we do not have any other business,” she said. “I will shave my head [in gratitude] if I can find money to pay the debt.”
Morng Phat, a nearby farmer, said the money he earned this year was barely enough to pay for fertilizer, pesticide, labor and other expenses.
“The problem is that farm products are not balanced with goods on the market,” he said. “It would be helpful if a real local company would help buy and stock our products, avoiding middleman pressure for their prices.”
The falling prices were hurting others who had taken out loans and expected to pay them back.
“In this area, there are a lot of people who have run away from their homes and sold their land away,” said Khoy Soeun, in Sampov Loan district, Battambang. “The prices are cheap, and the people have lost much.”
“One day there will be confiscation of property,” said neighbor Seng Chea, as he repaired a tractor.
Tep Kunnal, governor of nearby Malay district, said farmers had to “join hands” to get over the hurdles.
Along the eastern border, farmers reported the same woes—with worries mounting.
Chhuon Keng, a farmer along the border, said he was struggling to pay medical debt after his three children came down with dengue fever.
Another villager, So Wat, on the border in Kampong Cham province, said the low prices were keeping him from paying the cost of surgery for his wife.
Even the middlemen, or brokers, are suffering this year.
“Making profits from the business is hard now,” said Kim Sothary, female trader. “This year I’m more tired, and there’s more work but less profit.”
She bought cassava at 330 riel per kilogram and sold it for 395 riel in Vietnam, she said.
Kang Chandararoth, an economist, predicted the low prices would only last as long as the global economic woes.
And banking officials said they did not anticipate problems from defaulted loans.
“In the period of the economic crisis, agriculture is the field that we think has the most potential,” said In Siphan, chief of Acleda Bank’s credit division.
Even with low prices, cassava, corn and rubber would continue to grow, he said, gradually bring an income, however small.