Tep Phearith, a pig farmer in Kompong Speu province, says he has lost $20,000 in just the past three months.
“I will close my business soon,” he said. “I can’t afford to buy hog feed.”
The owner of a 200-hog farm in Phnom Sruoch district, Tep Phearith blames an influx of cheaper, imported pork for the ruin of his business.
His own carcasses sell for $1.05 per kg whereas imported Vietnamese swine will sell at 72 cents per kg, he said.
It’s a complaint heard often outside Cambodia’s pig pens. In the last three months alone, the market price of pork has plummeted as much 30 percent, due to imported competition that may be illegal, farmers, importers and an NGO representative said this week.
Much of the imported pork appears to be entering the country from Vietnam, and may even be responsible for a recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, some government and NGO officials contend.
Agriculture Ministry officials announced last week that 300 pigs and dozens of cows and water buffalo had died of foot-and-mouth in Prey Veng province since July.
“It’s like an assembly line of pigs coming across the border,” said one NGO worker involved in private sector development who spoke on condition of anonymity, and described thousands of Vietnamese pigs crossing the border in trucks and on the backs of motorbikes in Kompong Cham province every day.
Though small-scale smuggling has been the norm for years, staff at his NGO interviewed participants at every stage of the supply chain and found that over the last two to three months, the trade has increased exponentially.
More than 180 pigs a day are moving through just one point of sale in Kompong Cham province, he said.
“We’ve talked to the traders. We’ve been to the border. We’ve taken photos,” the NGO worker said, adding, “I would imagine it’s a couple of thousand [hogs] everyday.”
It may be due to confusion over the law.
Agricultural officials claim importing pigs is illegal—an assertion disputed by Camcontrol, Cambodia’s import-export inspection agency.
The drivers bringing in the pigs appear to have official documents, or “chbap,” allowing them to bypass customs and sanitary controls, reducing costs and exposing Cambodian livestock to infection, said the NGO worker, who contends the import is illegal.
An official with the Vietnamese embassy said Wednesday that he was unfamiliar with the situation.
Thav Kim Long, first deputy governor of Kompong Cham province, said Wednesday that no such permits had ever been issued and that the Vietnamese swine imports were contraband.
“All pigs imported from Vietnam are smuggled. This is the principle of the Ministry of Agriculture,” he said.
“The [Agriculture] Ministry has allowed some exports of cows and water buffaloes to Vietnam but has never allowed importing any pigs,” said Kong Choeurn, director of the Kompong Cham agriculture and fishery department.
Huot Sambath, administration director of the Agriculture Ministry’s animal health department, said the ministry was vigilant in its efforts to contain the spread of foot-and-mouth and that pig imports were not allowed.
“We don’t have any evidence that foot-and-mouth has been imported from Vietnam,” he said.
However Khlauk Chuon, deputy director of Camcontrol, Cambodia’s import-export inspection agency, said that while his agency did not yet have statistics for the pig trade, it did exist.
“All imported pigs are properly taxed,” he said.
“Vietnam appears more aggressive and their product appears more competitive when compared to local pig farmers,” he added.
Whatever the case, Cambodian pig farmers are definitely suffering.
Gauging the size of the Cambodian pork market is difficult, but the NGO worker estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 pigs were slaughtered in Cambodia every day, meaning volume of smuggled imports could sometimes be equal to half of this.
“We believe it will put people out of business,” he added. “It keeps them out of the market economy and it keeps them at a subsistence level so they can’t earn an income.”
Hog farmers across the nation are tearing up their pigpens due to the glut of cheaper pork flooding in from Vietnam and Thailand.
Sok Mungul, who heads a recently formed collective of about 10 hog farmers in Koh Kong and Kompong Speu provinces, agreed.
“We’ve seen the sale price drop sharply because there is too much imported livestock from Vietnam,” he said.
Sok Mungul, who also owns Mungul Farm in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district, said that due to the competition his farmers were now selling at $1.04 per kg whereas they had been selling at $1.51 in May and June.
Mei Barang, a slaughterhouse owner in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, said she slaughtered several dozen Vietnamese pigs everyday.
“I am very sure no pig with foot-and-mouth was imported from Vietnam,” she said, adding that her slaughterhouse was often visited by health inspectors.
“I think if we don’t import pigs from Vietnam, we won’t be able to supply the market’s demands today,” she added.
Mao Thura, an undersecretary of state at the Commerce Ministry, said that as a member of the World Trade Organization, Cambodia could not ban the import of pigs.
He suggested that some struggling farmers were perhaps blaming imports for their own mismanagement.
“I think sometimes business people lose money not because of trade policy but maybe they lose profit for other reasons,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)