July 22, 2022
PHNOM PENH – With prices having plummeted over the past two years, crocodile farmers are seeking the help of the Cambodian government to find more official international markets for export.
In businesses that used to bring in thousands of dollars every year, breeders are also looking to attract investors for the processing of crocodile skin products to meet domestic demand and for export.
One farmer told The Post that the Cambodian crocodile market has been in decline for the past six to seven years due to a lack of clear export markets, with only informal exports to Vietnam and Thailand.
Lim Rithy, the owner of a crocodile farm in Siem Reap, which currently has about 1,700 to 1,800 adult crocs, told The Post on June 30 that prices had dropped more than 10 per cent in that time.
“Crocodile farmers were previously called ‘crocodile bosses’, but now they are known as the ‘crocodile slaves’ because crocodiles have no value and no market, and we have to spend a lot of money on the crocodiles’ food instead of making a profit.
“There are no buyers now, especially for big crocodiles, which six or seven ago had an average price of $500 to $800 per head, whereas the price is now only $30 to $40 as there are no buyers,” Rithy said.
He said that in early June this year, new hatchlings had an average price of $2 per head, but then a few weeks later it dropped to around $1.
“It now depends on the Vietnamese traders, because exports are currently only to Vietnam, whereas before Covid-19, some hatchlings were also brought to Thailand,” Rithy said.
Crocodile breeders have been left disappointed by a huge price drop and there being no clear international markets to buy Cambodian crocodiles or crocodile products.
He added that due to the high cost of feed and the very low prices, crocodile farmers are no longer motivated to continue in the business.
At present, crocodile meat costs between 3,000-6,000 riel ($0.75-1.50) per kilogramme – mostly used to make jerky – while the skin of adult crocodiles aged 11 years or older can cost around $15, with that from three- to four-year-old crocodiles costing around $10.
Adult females usually lay eggs from late February to May, which hatch from April to July each year.
According to Rithy, fish feed for crocodiles is currently imported from Thailand at a price of between 1,800 and 2,000 riel per kilogramme.
For the more than 1,700 crocodiles he raises, this means he spends nearly $4,000 a month on food, with his crocs fed once every two weeks.
Rithy said that according to reports, the demand for crocodile skin in the international market remains, but market stagnation in Cambodia is due to Vietnam being only gateway for the export of crocodiles, which allows Vietnamese traders set prices at their discretion.
“If we refuse to sell at a lower price, we will have to pay even more on food. Right now, if anyone agreed to buy all my crocodiles at a reasonable price, I would sell at once.
“I ask the government to intervene for crocodile farmers by helping them find markets and attract more investors for the processing of a range of consumer goods and souvenirs from crocodile skin.
“This will not only help crocodile farmers and tourism, but will also help Cambodia’s economic growth,” he said.
San Hak, who has been raising crocodiles in Siem Reap since 1993, said the Cambodian crocodile market had bottomed out in about two years.
This was due to a decrease in the number of breeders and also a sharp drop in prices, with new hatchlings costing between $1 to $1.50 at the end of June.
Prices may continue to fall further as the number of new hatchlings increases, he warned, added that the decline in the price of crocodiles in Cambodia may be caused by two main factors.
Internally, crocodile farmers have not formed associations or communities to protect common interests, while external factors stem from Cambodian crocodiles having no export market other than Vietnam.
Crocodile skin products are very popular in China, so if the government could help find a direct export market to China without going through Vietnam, it would definitely help, San Hak said.
In a previous interview, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon told The Post that the ministry has never ignored seeking international markets for crocodile exports direct from Cambodia, but the problem is that there are no orders.
He said the decline in prices and lack of markets can be due to a number of factors, such as a lull in the international market, the quality of Cambodian crocodile skin not being up to standard and an abundance of crocodile farming across the world.
“The price of crocodiles in Cambodia depends on the international market, so if there are no international orders, the price will fall accordingly,” Sakhon said.
While he said he is constantly striving to promote Cambodia to investors to attract them to invest or arrange standardised breeding in accordance with the wishes of buyers, the raising of crocodiles in Cambodia has mostly copied others, meaning the skins were just not good enough.
“Such breeding has made our crocodile skin not meet the desired standards,” Sakhon said.
In Hul, deputy director of the Department of Fisheries Conservation under the ministry’s Fisheries Administration, told The Post on June 29 that the Cambodian market for crocodiles and crocodile products had fallen into a rut, as it has in many other countries.
He said a large reason was Covid-19, as there had been less travel and the associated use of such products over the past two years.
However, the agriculture ministry regularly promotes Cambodian products to investors of all nationalities to attract them into the local market, he added.
“We are always in contact with foreigners to promote Cambodian products, but obviously the demand for crocodile skin products in their country has also declined over the past two years,” Hul said.
The ministry reported that, as of end-2021, there were 292,100 crocodiles raised in Cambodia, down by 21,000 compared to 2020.
This was equivalent to 88.52 per cent of the 330,000 estimate made at the beginning of last year.