The humble banana is considered one of the most traditional foods in Cambodia. As one of the most popular fruits in Khmer society, they can be used in a multitude of ways – they can be eaten raw or fried or added to rice dishes.
In recent year, a business in Kampong Cham province has developed alternative uses for the simple fruit – banana candy and wine. The products are so popular that they are exported to several countries in Asian and even Europe.
In an interview with The Post, Yun Phally – the owner of the Namwah Banana Wine Company, located in Ta Ong commune of Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham – said the reason she chose bananas went back to a long family connection with the yellow fruit.
During the painful time of the Khmer Rouge rule, her paternal grandmother – who had a sweet tooth and missed eating desserts – was fortunate that the Chamkar Leu district of Kampong Cham province is rich in banana trees. Despite her extreme hunger, her grandmother made bananas into sweet juice that she would drink every day.
She said that her family became middlemen in the banana business after 1979. This became the family business until 2010, when the prices of bananas plummeted. In 2013, her father remembered how his mother had made bananas into sweet banana juice.
He realised that if he had unsold stock, it would spoil and be valueless. Therefore, he sought ways to turn ripe fruit into a product that could be stored for a long time.
“After thinking about it for some time, he came up with a way to make banana sugar in 2013. Later, he made banana wine and candy. Namwah products have proven to be a success in several markets.
Phally said her wines are produced with different flavors and brand names.
These products include the Namwah banana wine and Ta Ong banana wine, which identifies the village in Ta Ong commune – the location of her enterprise. Seven varieties of her wines are available, with different flavours and aging procedures. Some are aged for six months, while some remain in the barrel for up to four years.
Each of the products is priced the same however, with one bottle selling for $11.
Her wines are available at most of the Kingdom’s major supermarket chains and are also proudly displayed at Cambodia’s international airports.
They are not only for sale within the country, but are exported to South Korea, Germany and China, where they are gaining more and more support.
In order to widen this support, Phally, as the owner of a local production enterprise, requested that government institutions help in all ways to promote Cambodian products.
“I request that all relevant ministries encourage people to support Cambodian products more strongly. I believe our people value foreign products very much, but Cambodians do not trust Cambodian products,” she said.
She added that the foreign products circulating in the market in Cambodia may be in clean attractive packages but their exact sources are unclear, while Cambodian products have
a clear source, location and telephone number, as well as
their company name. This means authorities can easily reach them should any problems relating to the products arise.
She said no one is responsible for goods from abroad, so resolving issues can be difficult.
“Local producers have to take more care when they manufacture their goods, and so people should place more trust in Cambodian entrepreneurs,” she added.
Chheng Borin, director of the Kampong Cham provincial Department of Commerce, told The Post that Namwah had been operating in the province for many years.
He said that the commerce department had supported Phally
by helping to find new markets for her products and promoting them though exhibitions around the Kingdom. They were also responsible for inviting her to showcase her goods in China and South Korea.
This was one part of the One Village One Product movement, which – with the support of the Kampong Cham provincial committee as well as the Department of Commerce – sought to find new markets for the unique products of the province.
“We want all of the products from Kampong Cham to become more popular. We also want to see an increase in innovative ideas for turning agricultural produce into valuable goods. Banana wines and candy are good examples,” he said.
He added that the provincial governor as well as the Ministry of Commerce had also issued statements reiterating their support for Cambodian-made products.