Cambodia’s coffee farmers have been caught up in the world collapse in coffee prices, and most have abandoned their plantations, according to officials in Ratanakkiri province.
“Our businesses have failed. Our farmers have to stop growing coffee because there is no market for it,” said Kham Kheoun, governor of the province, who also has a 40-hectare coffee plantation.
Kham Kheoun started his plantation when coffee cost $1,500 to $2,000 a ton in local and foreign markets. The price, which reached a high of $2,600 in 1998, began to drop in 1999 and is down to $200 to $300 in local markets, he said.
About 5 percent of Ratanakkiri’s farmers grow 500 to 600 tons of coffee a year, he said. But this year virtually all plantations are abandoned, and Kham Kheoun himself has lost $200,000 in the last three years.
Kham Kheoun said the government could do more to help coffee growers. Vietnamese officials guide farmers in knowing which crops will have a market, he said.
“The government is paying no attention to the difficulties of the people,” he said.
Thousands of hectares of Ratanakkiri have the potential to grow products such as coffee, pepper, soybeans and green beans, he said. But the markets for these products are not stable.
The collapse has spurred some coffee growers to switch to cashew nuts: “I began my cashew nut plantation three years ago,” said Banlung District Governor Ly Vin. “I had abandoned [coffee] because it was too cheap.”
The price of cashew nuts has remained stable at about $1,600 a ton since 1994, Ly Vin said. It is also much cheaper to grow cashew nuts; about $150 a hectare, versus $1,000 a hectare to grow coffee, he said.
Cambodia’s neighbors sell coffee at a higher price, said Chea Sitha, deputy chief of the Export Department at the Ministry of Commerce. That’s because they have government programs to guarantee that exported coffee is above a certain standard.
Vietnamese coffee costs about $400 per ton, and Lao coffee $700 a ton, Ly Vin said. Most exported Cambodian coffee goes to Vietnam, and Cambodian coffee is sometimes put into coffee that is exported from Vietnam, he said.