Cambodian Cassava Prices Rise After Mealybug Plague in Thailand

A plague of mealybugs that affected much of Thailand’s cassava crop earlier this year has caused the price of Cambodian cassava to jump by more than 300 percent compared to the same period last year, farmers and officials said yesterday.

Duong Chan, a cassava farmer from Thma Puok district in Banteay Meanchey province, said the price of cassava currently stood at 2,250 baht, or $74.5, per ton, up from just 500 baht during the same period last year.

“Those who grow cassava at the right time this year will get a very good price for their product,” Ms Chan said.

The rise in price came after a plague of mealybugs devastated much of Thailand’s $1.5 billion cassava crop in July. Expecting a poor harvest this year in Thailand, farmers are now starting to move away from growing commodities such as beans and toward crops such as corn and cassava, experts say.

Farmers “are running after the price,” said Yaing Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture. “When they see the price go up this year there will be more farmers for cassava” next year.

He said that price-sensitive farmers who frequently change the crops they plant were adding to volatility in the market. Once the price goes up and more farmers grow the crop, an oversupply can quickly occur, sending prices downward.

Mr Koma said that he expected the price of cassava to fall next year once Thailand rejuvenated its cassava crop and supply levels balanced out again. He added that more farmers opting to plant corn and cassava this year meant that bean prices would likely increase.

According to Heng Bunhor, director of Banteay Meanchey’s agriculture department, although just 21,000 hectares of land are now being used for growing cassava in the province compared to 30,000 hectares the previous year, productivity had gone up due to a better rainy season. He expects this year’s harvest to reach 600,000 tons compared to 450,000 tons in 2009, and said he sees more farmers choosing to grow the crop due to a better price.

The harvest season for cassava usually starts in December and runs until around March, before the rainy season begins.

Chouy Tav, another cassava farmer in Thma Puok district, said he expected prices to increase even further – to as much as 2,500 baht by December – as Thailand grapples with a lack of supply.

“Thailand is facing a shortage of cassava,” he said. “I don’t think the price will go down again until the beginning of 2011.”

 

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