Tobacco Co Asks Gov’t For Protection

The British American Tobacco company last week called on the government to come up with a strategy to reduce tobacco imports in favor of locally produced tobacco, ideally in its new multimillion-dollar processing plant.

“There is no need for the tobacco industry to rely heavily on im­ported, processed tobacco for use in local cigarettes,” said Kun Lim, corporate communications manager for BAT.

In 1997, BAT signed a contract with 800 farmers in Kompong Chhnang province promising to buy their product in exchange for seed and technical assistance.

BAT can process 2,000 tons of tobacco leaves twice a year in its $12 million primary manufacturing plant in Phnom Penh. At its full operational capacity, it can process four tons of cut tobacco leaves per hour. That is more than enough to service the country’s entire tobacco industry, said Kun Lim.

The plant is part of a $25 million total investment by BAT and was completed in 2001.

“This plant…is more than capable of processing the tobacco for the entire industry in Cambodia,” John Nelson, general manager of BAT, told a Council for the Devel­opment of Cambodia delegation last month.

Kun Lim said that 70 percent of the tobacco BAT processes comes from farms in Kompong Cham province and the rest is imported. However, he said that nine other tobacco manufacturers import 100 percent of their tobacco leaves.

“Importing foreign materials is not the way to create jobs for local farmers,” Kun Lim said. “If all tobacco companies were willing to use local farmers we could in­crease our products by up to 18,000 tons per year.”

Cambodia has 13,000 hectares of land available for tobacco farming. Currently, only 10 percent of that land has been planted, said Kun Lim.

Farmers produce an average of 2,000 tons of tobacco leaf for each 1,000 hectares of land. “BAT has promised to buy at least 70 percent of their product from local farmers, even if there is scant demand for it outside Cambodia,” Kun Lim said.


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