Welhunt Materials Enterprise on Tuesday last week signed an academic-industrial pact with National Pingtung University of Science and Technology for its cashew nut business in Cambodia.
University president Tai Chang-hsien (戴昌賢) said the university is to collaborate with Welhunt Materials on technical research, including tropical fruit tree cultivation, agricultural drones, artificial intelligence-assisted agricultural machinery and assembly lines with machine vision.
Welhunt Materials is a diverse and international business that trades in steel, coal and cashews, company general manager Huang Ching-hua (黃清華) said.
The growth of Welhunt Materials’ plantations in Cambodia over the past decade has created a demand for skilled workers and supervisors, he said, adding that the firm bought 350 hectares of farmland near Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and planted 100,000 cashew trees last year.
The company this year plans to establish a consolidated supply chain by cultivating another 1,200 hectares and installing a processing facility with a monthly output of 150 tonnes, he said.
The global market for cashews is estimated to be worth US$3 billion per year, and Vietnam, the world’s leading exporter of finished cashew products, grows only one-third of the nuts it sells annually, Huang said.
Vietnam’s 1.2 million tonnes of processed cashew exports were grown in three areas that have roughly equal output: Vietnam, Cambodia and Africa, he said.
Unlike Vietnam, people are not worried that Cambodia’s cashew fields are affected by Agent Orange — a herbicide and defoliant used by the US Military during the Vietnam War — but the nation does not have any cashew processing facilities, which limits it to growing, he said.
Having toured Vietnam’s cashew factories, Huang said he is convinced they need modern production techniques and sanitation standards, and Taiwanese technical expertise is competitive.