Tobacco farmers in Kandal province expect larger harvests this year with the help of British American Tobacco, the international cigarette producer that has significantly increased its use of locally-grown tobacco.
Some 56 percent of the leaves used to make Cambodia’s best-selling cigarette, BAT’s Ara, were locally grown. BAT estimates a jump to 72 percent this year, according to the company.
With supervision and training from BAT experts, better seeds, and the introduction of an organic pesticide, tobacco farmers are able to produce crops that yield 1,950 kg per hectare on average, said Chuon Vuthy, a leaf specialist for BAT who has a doctorate in tobacco leaves.
BAT’s use of locally grown tobacco is a positive step for farmers, whose previous crop yields were as low as 800 kg per hectare, said Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce.
The Ministry of Industry encourages the same kind of corporate-local cooperation, said Hul Lim, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Industry. The government’s policy is to promote farmer production and to look for a market, he said.
With BAT, the market is already there, giving the farmers more stability in their sales and allowing them to earn more, said Kun Lim, a spokesman for BAT.
Since 1996, the company has been investing in the Kandal province farmers, producing leaves suitable not only for local production of Ara and other brands, but also for export.
“The quality we’ve been able to achieve is able to compete on the international market,” Kun Lim said.
Seeds from Malaysia were introduced to the tobacco-friendly ground in Kandal, where tobacco has traditionally been grown, he said.
At first, only slightly more than 100 farmers were interested, he said. But the company proved they could boost the crop. Nearly 800 farmers are now producing tobacco for the company. Four of them were able to buy new tractors this year, and one farmer, who planted early and received 100 percent return on his investment, was “smiling wide” all the way to the bank, Chuon Vuthy said.
The company also introduced the Lim tree to the farmers, the leaves of which can be crushed and mixed with water to make a potent repellent of the tobacco leaves’ traditional enemy, the caterpillar.
With the boost in crops, the company now exports to its sister company in Sri Lanka, Kun Lim said.
The import-reliant government would like to see more of that practice, Sok Siphana said. “With the new way of farming,” he said, “people receive a better benefit.”