Business Growth Opportunities in the Cambodian Aquaculture Sector

EMC recently conducted a sector growth study on commercial aquaculture to give recommendations on private sector investment opportunities and on how the government and development partners can spur sector growth. The study was commissioned by CAST (Commercialization of Aquaculture for Sustainable Trade) project which is funded by USDA and implemented by the American Soybean Association (ASA), World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) and World Vision International (WVI), in partnership with further actors such as Auburn University (AU) and Kansas State University (KSU) though the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN) in Cambodia.  

Cambodian commercial aquaculture or ‘freshwater fish farming’ in this context holds untapped potential for the private sector – the domestic market is large and growing, and with appropriate investment and best practice, the business can provide investors with a healthy cashflow.   

The Market Outlook is Strong 

The demand for fish is growing due to high popularity of freshwater fish in a growing Cambodian population with increasing purchase power. In addition, commercial freshwater fish farming is growing at an even faster rate due to the decline of wild capture fisheries as a result of natural resource depletion and climate change challenges. Aquaculture production has risen steadily over the past years relative to wild capture, reaching a 34% share out of total fisheries production in 2019 at an estimated 307,408 MT (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, MAFF).  

Figure 1 Aquaculture Production (Source: MAFF, 2019) 

Cambodian consumers’ concern for food safety will be an increasingly important barrier to low quality, untraceable production from small scale domestic suppliers and imports.  

Best Practice Unlock Profits

Key drivers of improved profitability in fish farming are lower feed conversion ratio achieved by high quality pelleted feed, shorter crop cycle, higher yield species and high market prices. As they grow, farms should benefit from returns to scale – a reduction in the cost per production unit, as one-off infrastructure investment costs are shared across larger output, and input prices fall due to bulk purchases. Examples of successful implementation can already be found in Cambodia, such as a 20ha aquaculture farm in Kampong Thom province.   



High potential species are Silver Barb and Tilapia based on their current profile of demand and profitability. Silver barb encounters good demand, offers the highest net margin out of all species, and can fetch high market prices. Tilapia combines a shorter growth cycle with good market prices and is deemed high potential also for modern retail and export. Other commonly farmed species include Pangasius and Walking Catfish. Both are popular due to their versatility in use, the latter with the additional benefit of a short growth cycle. However, for both species, low market prices distorted by cheap imports at the time of the study prevent profitability which illustrates the potential effects of volatile commodity prices on the market. As a general means to raise revenue, more frequent harvesting and higher yield can be achieved by increasing farming cycles per year, water availability provided.   

Other Business Opportunities 

Value added processing can increase profit margins and the addressable market. Local staples such as prahok (fermented fish) or smoked fish also hold potential for sales overseas in the sizeable Cambodian diaspora in Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, France and USA. 

Higher quality inputs and services are required for the supply chain to function effectively. Fingerling and feed markets are currently filled with cheap and often low-quality imports. Similarly, business services such as packaging, logistics, supply and cold chain management contribute to a more competitive sector.  To capitalize on the growth opportunities in aquaculture, Agrimaster established Cambodia’s first commercial production of high-quality fish feed in 2019.  

The finance sector has opportunities to develop products that are tailored to commercial aquaculture, including term loans for upfront investment, input, and value chain finance. Higher familiarity with the commercial aquaculture business model is required to succeed in product design, and as potential clients, aquaculture farms need to properly record inputs and harvested outputs.    

Opportunities for Government and Development Partners

A developed commercial aquaculture is good news for rural incomes and employment. The Government and development partners can do the following to help.   

Government can achieve high impact with the provision of high-quality broodfish to ensure a reliable supply of local seed. This would focus public efforts where the private sector currently still struggles, while not competing with local hatcheries or interfering with their fingerling sales. Stricter monitoring and control of food safety will improve market conditions for best practice businesses. Improving infrastructure and business environment through year-round access to water, reduced electricity tariffs, import tax exemptions on equipment and aquaculture zoning will also contribute to sector development. 

Development partners can play a key role in facilitating better access to market and higher price transparency; currently, middlemen hold a lot of market power since producers often rely on few buyer contacts for price information and sales. Public awareness of food safety issues, and the establishment of quality standards will unlock niche market segments, higher price points and export opportunities.  Technical assistance to improve business capacity of commercial aquaculture farmers is crucial to ensure consistency with those standards and sustainable profits. Similarly, assistance to financial institutions on the economics of commercial aquaculture will help improve the design of financial products and concessional financing can help launch these into the market.  

In conclusion, considerable progress has been made in Cambodian aquaculture and more and more commercially minded businesses exist in the landscape. For the time being, there is still untapped potential for the private sector along the entire value chain including supporting business services with their crucial role in further and continued sector growth in the future.