By Chea Vannak
A recent study has found that the coconut sector in the kingdom remains largely underdeveloped and untapped, despite showing that the industry could generate far larger profits if other uses for the ubiquitous commodity were considered, such as using coconuts and its derivatives for cooking, building materials and fuel.
A lack of infrastructure and know-how when it comes to coconut processing is keeping the sector stuck at a very primal stage of development, the study suggests.
Conducted by the Global Leaders Programme of Hong Kong-based think tank Global Institute for Tomorrow (GIFT), the paper concludes that developing the country’s full potential in the coconut industry could have far-reaching economic, social and environmental impacts.
Businessmen and investors have failed to seize opportunities in the production of a range of coconut-related products, including cosmetics, cooking oil, and house-building materials.
Selling young coconut for quick money and a lack of awareness among villagers when it comes to coconut processing techniques is keeping the sector away from more advanced and profitable stages of development.
Kong Chan, under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the study was of great importance for the sector, as it will help guide investors and develop the industry.
“We have a lot of coconut trees, but we are unable to export processed coconut products,” Mr Chan said.
Farmers don’t let coconuts mature; they think that it is better to sell them when they are still young and make a quick buck, as they believe their value decreases the older they get, Mr Chan lamented.
Coconuts are traditionally planted in the southwest of the country. Most coconuts in Cambodia come from Kampot, Kep, Takeo, Preah Sihanoukville, Koh Kong and Kampong Speu.
A 2010 survey from the Ministry of Agriculture showed that Cambodia had 12 million coconut trees, although not all of them were used for commercial purposes.
Chandran Nair, founder and CEO of GIFT, said he hopes the study will improve farmers’ livelihoods and help investors capitalise on the many opportunities the sector offers.
“The study aims to give businessmen clues for creative solutions that can help drive forward growth in the sector,” he explained.
GIFT’s Global Leader Program aims to find ways to improve the coconut value chain in Cambodia and also to find solutions that combine integrating smallholder farmers, village-level processing facilities and large plantations, according to Mr Nair.