Vendors Complain Over Decreased Demand as Pchum Ben Begins

Consumer spending on food, incense and other goods associated with the celebration of Pchum Ben has decreased sharply compared to last year, Phnom Penh market vendors said yesterday.

Following a similar trend, a monk said yesterday that donations to Phnom Penh pagodas had also fallen.

Pchum Ben, a Buddhist festival celebrating the dead, has historically been a boon for vendors, with families reuniting for big meals and donating food to local pagodas.

But market vendors said yesterday that even though spending dipped slightly last year as the economic crisis forced customers worldwide to tighten their belts, this year has seen a more marked decrease in demand.

“Our business used to go up a lot, but now it only goes up by maybe a third of what it has been,” said Kang Chheng, who runs a grocery stall in Phnom Penh’s Phsar O’Russey.

According to Ms Chheng, one reason for the decrease in spending is the effect of drought on farmers, who cannot afford to celebrate the holiday as they once did because of increased debt after their poor harvest.

Nay Ky, who sells incense and candles out of her Phsar O’Russey stall, said her business has had half the number of customers as during previous Pchum Ben festivals.

“I am worried that if the first few days of the celebration go this poorly, I could make less than 50 percent of the cash I used to,” Ms Ky said.

Other market vendors, selling pork, fruit and chickens, echoed Ms Ky’s concern.

“I can’t sell anything,” said banana seller Sao Phally, who added that he had been forced to drop his price from $.75 to $.50 per bundle.

A lack of willingness to spend on the Pchum Ben holiday has also been felt outside the market. Roth Chham, Wat Langka’s 76-year-old deputy abbot, said yesterday that the average family donation to his pagoda for a blessing had fallen from roughly $12.5 during last year’s festival to $5 this year.

“The amount of food that is being donated has also decreased by about 70 to 80 percent,” Roth Chham said, adding that the decrease in donations would force the pagoda to slow down construction projects.

According to Roth Chham, monks at many other pagodas in the city have faced similar donation shortfalls this year.

But Chum Sam Oeun, director of Phnom Penh municipal commerce department, yesterday expressed doubt about claims of flagging donations to pagodas.

“I’ve been to many pagodas in the city and in the provinces,” Mr Sam Oeun said. “There might be a difference between the city and the country, but there is no lack of foods at Phnom Penh’s pagodas.”

He added that any decrease in market sales was likely driven by higher product prices.

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