PREK TOAL VILLAGE, Preah Sihanouk province – Like most people who live in this small village near the border of Kampot province, An Mit is broke.
The 21-year-old, who has made a meager living selling fish and crabs or timber cut illegally in Bokor National Park, wants to diversify.
“There are no more fish in the sea and no more big trees to cut in the forest,” Mr. Mit said, sitting beneath his wooden home on stilts.
“Because of overfishing and deforestation, we can no longer survive like this,” he said. “The only money I can get now is from farming rice.”
However, a solution to the young man’s increasingly desperate situation could be coming by way of a slaughterhouse under construction near the village, which is little more than a strip of homes lining a kilometer-long stretch of National Road 3.
Already, more than 30 locals are working to construct the abattoir, which is being built to Australian standards after its government agreed to send 10,000 head of cattle here beginning later this year.
Phoeun Nam, chief of Toek Thla commune, said many of the struggling farmers and fishers in the community are also eyeing employment on the half-built killing floor.
“There are about 3,000 unemployed people here,” Mr. Nam said of the commune. “They have heard that the slaughterhouse will open soon and they will all be very happy to be employed.”
When fully operational, the slaughterhouse will employ 1,293 local staff—1,000 of them skilled —according to Lim Ngoun, director of SLN Meat Supplies, which holds both the contract to import the cattle and license to operate the slaughterhouse.
While inspecting the 74-hectare site on Sunday, Mr. Ngoun said that he hoped to employ about 500 people from the surrounding area, who would have to learn how to slaughter and process cattle.
Currently, cattle killed for beef in the country consist mostly of working stock too old or ill to labor, and often put to death inhumanely.
Australian law, however, dictates that when livestock is exported, the animals must face conditions in line with Australian standards until after their death.
Australia’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, a protocol introduced in 2012 after it was revealed that Australian cattle were being treated cruelly in Indonesia, dictates that animals must feel no pain during any stage of the slaughtering process.
Mr. Ngoun, a dual Cambodian-Australian citizen, said he is confident that turning fishermen into butchers would not be a problem.
“I am not concerned about human resources,” he said. “We will recruit locally and then teach the professional skills. It will not take long.”
In May, Australia’s department of agriculture banned a Vietnamese company from importing Australian cattle after an investigation found that a number of animals had been “moved outside approved facilities and slaughtered in a manner not compliant with international animal welfare recommendations.”
Suon Sothoeun, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry’s department of animal health, said last week that Cambodia had already signed on to the Australian protocol.
According to Mr. Ngoun, 17 experts—some Australian, some Cambodian-Australian—will come to Prek Toal later this year to train slaughterhouse staff to abide by the standards the Vietnamese company breached.
Australian officials will only become involved once the SLN abattoir is operational, he said.
“Training is our responsibility. Their [Australia’s] responsibility is from the day the cattle leave Australia, through the feedlot and to the knocking box,” where the cow is stunned before its throat is slit.
“The job is simple. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
During the training period, the slaughterhouse will process between 300 and 500 cattle a day, Mr. Ngoun said. Once staff are fully proficient, 3,000 head could be processed in a day.
Mr. Ngoun said a six-year tax break on exports from the Cambodian government would allow him to pay his staff a salary of at least $200 per month.
For Mr. Mit, the fisherman with no fish to catch, such a wage would go a long way toward supporting his family of seven.
“I and other villagers here do not have enough work to do in order to improve our living,” he said.
“If the factory starts operating and needs a local labor force, we will apply.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)