Hav Sokna overcame gender bias when venturing into business, with initial objections coming from her own family, who feared she would not succeed – and that the novel venture would distract her from her duties as a housewife.
But the enterprising young businesswoman was not to be deterred.
Having come across the breeding of coconut worms on Facebook, Sokna began researching the unusual endeavour, going on to prove that women in the informal sector can succeed if they have strong determination.
“The whole idea of me starting the business was to make some extra income to meet my family’s expenses as well as to contribute to the community.
“I became interested in starting my own business selling coconut worms because, as a housewife busy with daily chores, they are easy to take care of. They are easy to breed and require little attention,” said Sokna.
Today she is the proud owner of the Sokna Natural Coconut Worm Farm located in Sangkat Kraing Thnong, in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district.
While commonly referred to as the coconut worm, the wriggly delicacy is actually the larva of a type of snout beetle. And after acquiring the techniques needed to breed coconut worms, Sokna set up her own enterprise in early 2021.
Her business venture has seen her turn into a confident entrepreneur, with the mother-of-two able to juggle the business with parenting.
Business success is often about good timing, and Sokna’s entry into the market selling home-grown larvae turned lucrative as social media was flooded with video clips on the eating of rare, exotic and unusual foods – fuelling demand for her tasty maggots as Cambodians rushed to try her coconut worms.
“The market demand was high from June to September last year because shows on exotic eating went viral on social media such as Facebook and TikTok.
“Many customers wanted to taste my coconut worms. I used to breed about 400 containers of the larvae, and each month I could easily sell between 50kg and 80kg.
“The retail price is 70,000 riel per kilo, while the wholesale price is about 50,000 riel,” said Sokna.
Breeding coconut worms is not a laborious business, she said, as the larvae can be hatched within seven days, and after around 45 days they are ready to be sold. Breeding can be done easily in plastic containers filled with coconut fibre.
“Coconut worms are easy to breed because they only need to be fed once in about 10 to 15 days. First we select the right breed and then choose suitable food for them.
“I use coconut shells and slightly rotten fruit from the local market, such as bananas, papayas, watermelons, jackfruits or dragon fruits.”
She said one consideration when breeding the larvae is the weather – they need a warm and humid climate ranging between 27-30 Celsius for healthy growth or they do not produce enough offspring.
The maggot is highly nutritious and contains protein, carbohydrate, fibre, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron and potassium.
Roasted larvae are a popular delicacy in tropical countries, and are widely eaten as a snack in Thailand, Vietnam and parts of Africa. They are also eaten raw.
“More than 20,000 insect farming enterprises are now registered in [Thailand], most of which are small-scale household operations,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization assistant director-general and regional representative, in the 2013 “Six-Legged Livestock” report.
“Insect farming, collection, processing, transport and marketing has emerged as a multimillion dollar sector, providing income and employment for tens of thousands of Thai people, and healthy and nutritious food for millions of consumers.”
Sokna operates her business on an order-to-sell basis from her modest home.
“My customers are mostly retail, as I do not have wholesale customers such as restaurants yet. Most customers buy the maggots to see what they taste like.
“I produce based on orders, otherwise it will be a loss to me if I breed them and there are no buyers. I also cater to bulk buyers but need advance notice to breed the maggots.
“However, the market size for worms is still small due to poor demand. Most Cambodians are not aware of the benefits of coconut worms compared to Thailand, where the market for coconut worms is large,” she said.
And offering advice for women wishing to explore their own business ideas, Sokna said: “Women should believe in themselves and not be discouraged by failure.
“They need to be ready to learn new things to develop themselves into becoming a successful entrepreneur.”