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The dry tale of two fishies

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Drying fish traditionally on wooden grilles could soon be a thing of the past at Te Hok Lay’s shop.

Khan Nary, 45, has sold dried fish beside the road for more than 20 years. One of about 20 vendors on a short stretch of Highway 5 close to Krakor, she has worked here since she was a young woman.
“I was selling when I was still single, and now my children have grown up,” she laughs.

Most of her trade is passing, although she does sell wholesale to Phnom Penh, Pursat and Battambang. The upgrading of the road a few years back has improved her business.

“The more people who travel here, the better our trade is,” she says. “We have seen an increase in tourists. Every public holiday we see more people travelling here, and when they see the fish, they stop their cars.”

Khan Nary buys the fish from nearby fishing communities on the Tonle Sap. Behind her stall there is a wooden structure where she dries the fish.

“Our home is far from here, so I dry the fish here,” she says.

A few kilometres along the road in the village of Kandal, Te Hok Lay, 36, is also drying fish. He started his business 10 years ago, initially producing 200 kilograms of dried fish a day. Recently, however, he introduced new techniques that have increased production.

“Since officials from the Ministry of Fisheries came to teach me how to improve our hygiene and techniques, I can now dry more fish,” he says.  Now he can dry as much as one tonne of fish in two or three days.

Always one for a fresh challenge, Te Hok Lay is excited by a potential new partnership with the German Development Agency (GIZ).

“GIZ wants to install an oven here to dry fish,” he says. “It is more hygienic. I have to make sure that no insects enter the oven.”

According to Te Hok Lay, the drying ovens will be powered by solar panels.

Despite a disappointing pilot scheme in Krakor province, Te Hok Lay is optimistic. “The owner did not take care of the oven and use the technology properly,” he says. “So it failed.”

Whereas now it takes two to three days to dry the fish, the new ovens need only 24 to 30 hours, although Te Hok Lay will not be able to dry as many fish as he does now on traditional wooden grilles.

“I like this new technology so much,” he says. “That’s why I contacted them. I need to make the process more hygienic.”

Although he sees no immediate return on the new technology, Te Hok Lay can recognise a medium- to long-term benefit.

“When we have new technology the fish is more hygienic.  We can increase the price and sell in supermarkets, because they know it is 100 percent hygienic.”

After installing the oven, GIZ will provide Te Hok Lay with some guidance on how to market his fish, so expect to see the brand Te Hok Lay Dried Fish soon in a supermarket near you.

INTERPRETER: RANN REUY

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