Coconuts have been a well known multi-purpose crop in Cambodian society for many years, owing to their plentiful bounty of leaves, flesh, and tasty milk, which is widely used in cooking meals and deserts.
In an interesting evolution of the art of coconut cultivation, some farmers are switching to a native Battambang variety. Wax coconuts, or doung khtis, are a subspecies which is known for its unique sweetness, waxy pulp and viscous milk.
In Battambang province’s Sangke district, farmer Im Thech has allotted two hectares to growing traditional wax coconuts, as well as a smaller variety.
She described them as a low maintenance, easy to grow, high value crop.
Thech believed that planting wax coconuts is like saving for the future, because they require no capital investment to grow, and the fruit they produce can be sold for enough to support her family. She is even saving some of her profits, and plans to expand her plantation.
“My two hectares cannot meet market demand. Whether wax or regular coconuts, all of my produce is sold out every time I harvest them,” she said.
She explained that each wax coconut sold for around $7.50, as the end-users can produce up to ten smoothies from each one. By comparison, her plain coconuts sell for around $1.25. Almost all of her fruit are sold to wholesalers in Phnom Penh.
Although the variety is named wax coconut, not all of the nuts produced by each tree have the qualities that make them so valuable – generally just one or two coconuts per bunch have the unique characteristics of a true wax coconut, she added.
Thech said it took about three years from planting before the trees are ready to harvest, but once they are ready, she expected to be collecting coconuts for up to 60 years.
“Once a basic irrigation system is in place, there is very little maintenance required. We just need to spry a little insecticide during the hot season,” she added.
“One seedling costs around $10, and while the farmer is waiting for them to produce fruit, he or she can plant other mixed crops in between the coconut palms,” she continued.
She would like to see more Cambodian people take the initiative and explore what local resources they can use to make a living, because she had seen many people from her area migrate to Thailand looking for work.
“Even though working as a farmer will not make you rich like a millionaire, it means we don’t have to leave our homes and work for others. Farming can provide a steady income if we are wise and use our intelligence,” she said.
Thech revealed future plans to turn her farm into a tourist destination for foreign visitors, as these types of plantations are unique to Southeast Asia and would be of interest to people from colder climes.
The Battambang wax coconut was registered as collective brand by the Ministry of Commerce in February 2022, in order to ensure their sustainability, as well as to maintain benefits for farmers. They also serve to promote the Kingdom and its unique customs and traditions on the international stage, the ministry said at the time.