Pheapimex Garners Salt Contract

Morris conceded that one private company is more efficient than the government or an NGO, because Pheapimex would best sustain iodization by passing its costs on to consumers. 

Unicef first raised concerns about iodine after a 1996-97 study found that 1.7 million Cambodians, more than 15 percent of the population, are iodine-deficient and risk contracting goiter, or a swelling of the thyroid.

The risks among school-aged children are as high as 40 percent in some provinces, Morris said.

He said Unicef is aiming for 5,000 tons of iodized salt by year’s end. So far, Pheapimex has produced nearly 400 tons.

When the company began production, Morris said it “was not worried about making profits” and merely hoped to recoup initial investments and help provide Cambodians with needed iodine.

But as Pheapimex deputy director Ing Ly Seang last week looked out over the seaside salt-drying fields of Kampot province, he suggested he might soon hawk his product abroad.

“The company eventually plans to export the iodized salt to Malaysia, Korea and England,” Ing Ly Seang confirmed in a later interview. “If the weather (next year) is good enough, we will export tens of thousands of tons abroad.”

Unicef’s Morris was surprised at the suggestion. He said it will take decades to produce enough iodized salt to sustain Cambodia, the only Southeast Asian country that doesn’t treat salt.

Although unrelated to Pheapimex’s salt ventures, the company came under recent fire for receiving large government concessions of land before World Bank-sponsored probes into illegal logging were complete. Last year, the company was characterized by the environmental watchdog Global Witness as “the nastiest timber company in Cambodia.”

But Ing Ly Seang denied any knowledge of questionable logging tactics. He said his division of Pheapimex merely sells and iodizes salt and pointed a finger at local salt producers who swiftly cleared mangroves for their drying fields. (Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith).

 

there was nothing they could say,” he said, implying that producers don’t always get a fair price for their salt.

In addition to the lengthy government contract, the company received $13,000 in cash and equipment from Unicef to help improve health conditions by producing more iodized salt. Unicef officials said they had no alternative to working with Pheapimex.

By Im Sophea

and Kelly McEvers

the cambodia daily

Amid heightened concern the Cambodian diet sorely lacks iodine, salt for the first time is being iodized here, and one of the country’s most powerful companies won the contract to do it.

Pheapimex Co, recently criticized for its logging practices, in January was granted an exclusive 99-year contract to iodize and sell salt and began enhancing the salt in June. The company has both Cambodian and Chinese ownership, an official there said.

The agreement came just as the government moved to privatize the salt industry, said Ping Sivlay, who helped broker the deal as chairman of the national subcommittee for control of deficiency disorders at the Ministry of Planning.

Since then, he said the contract has angered some Kampot province salt producers, who have virtually no choice but to sell their salt to Pheapimex. “They protested to the company, but there was nothing they could say,” he said, implying that producers don’t always get a fair price for their salt.

In addition to the lengthy government contract, the company received $13,000 in cash and equipment from Unicef to help improve health conditions by producing more iodized salt. Unicef officials said they had no alternative to working with Pheapimex.

“They have a monopoly,” ex­plained Andrew Morris, head of health programming at Unicef.

“If there were more than one company involved, we would work with others. But by law, they’re the only ones who can handle it,” he said.

A deputy director for Pheapi­mex, Ing Ly Seang, said last week that salt producers in Kampot—Cambodia’s only salt-producing province—freely agreed to work with his company.

Morris conceded that one private company is more efficient than the government or an NGO, because Pheapimex would best sustain iodization by passing its costs on to consumers.

Unicef first raised concerns about iodine after a 1996-97 study found that 1.7 million Cambo­dians are iodine-deficient.

and risk contracting goiter, or a swelling of the thyroid.

The risk among school-aged children is as high as 40 percent in some provinces, Morris said.

He said Unicef is aiming for 5,000 tons of iodized salt by year’s end. So far, Pheapimex has produced nearly 400 tons.

When the company began production, Morris said it “was not worried about making profits” and merely hoped to recoup initial investments and help provide Cambodians with needed iodine.

Although unrelated to Pheapi­mex’s salt ventures, the company came under recent fire for receiving large government concessions of land before World Bank-sponsored probes into illegal logging were complete. Last year, the company was characterized by the environmental watchdog Global Witness as “the nastiest timber company in Cambodia.”

But Ing Ly Seang denied any knowledge of questionable logging tactics. He said his division of Pheapimex merely sells and iodizes salt and pointed a finger at local salt producers who swiftly cleared mangroves for their drying fields.

(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)

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