By Chan Muyhong
Cambodia will export 1,000 crocodile skins to France next month in a pilot project that, if successful, will look to increase the sale of skins to the EU, according to a Siem Reap crocodile farmers association representative.
Sen Rith, deputy president of the Association of Cambodian Crocodile Farm Development to Siem Reap and owner of a crocodile farm in the province, said Cambodian skins were gaining preference with international buyers due to the Kingdom’s record of protecting wild crocodiles and only using farmed crocodiles.
“They are interested to buy crocodile skins from us because our skins are softer,” he said. “Cambodia has the highest number of wild crocodiles among countries in the region, which reflects that we have done a good job in the protection of wild crocodiles,” he said.
Cambodia currently exports crocodile skins and meat to Vietnam, Thailand and China, with the government actively encouraging farmers to enter the sector.
Since 2005, the government has been pushing farmers to stop the export of baby crocodiles and instead sell the skins of fully-grown crocodiles. Farmers can sell baby crocodiles, aged between 3 to 12 months, for $12 to $14 per head, whereas the skin of a 3-year-old adult could be sold for $80 a piece.
Ung Visal, deputy president of the Angkor Association of Crocodile Feeders in Siem Reap, said he was hopeful about market prospects for Cambodian crocodile farmers, but said they still had a long way to go to catch up to the premium market and were being held back by the lack of capital and farming techniques.
“This time, the buyers [from the EU\ are looking for grade C skins, a standard which is not so hard to meet. They offer more than $100 per skin for grade C. If our skins can be categorised as grade B, then we get 20 per cent more and for grade A, we get 50 per cent more,” he said.
According to Visal, a few potential farms will be selected to provide skins for the pilot project.
“I am so excited for this chance they are offering us to be the suppliers. With a stable market, I think our farmers will be able to expand and improve the quality,” said Visal.
Heng Sovannara, chief of the Crocodile Development Division at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the export process involves getting a licence from CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is an international wildlife protection treaty between governments.
“Before skins can be exported, the exporters have to ask permission from the ministry and then we apply for a licence with CITES for cross-border export. We have already gotten a licence from CITES for Cambodian crocodile skins to be exported to the EU,” he said.
He said the export project means Cambodian crocodile farmers now have the opportunity to access a new and “potential market.”
“Buyers in the EU are really focusing on quality. If the pilot will be a success, they will have a contract with Cambodia and see how much we can supply,” he added.
Sovannara said Cambodian farmers should focus on improving quality of their skins in order to tap bigger markets and increase margins. Some 357 crocodile farms are registered with the Ministry of Fisheries and Administration, with around 50,000 baby crocodiles being exported in 2013.