As part of her personal quest to become a successful entrepreneur while staying committed to helping her community in the same way that her father did, Di Vichra created Phka Doung Handicraft – a company that produces several products by processing ripe coconuts.
Phka Doung is Khmer for “coconut flower” and Phka Doung Handicraft is a social enterprise that specialises in producing virgin coconut oil for health and beauty purposes as well as other coconut-based products while providing jobs and without harming the environment.
“Phka Doung was founded to create jobs for local people to allow them to work in their hometowns. It provides additional income to Cambodian farmers who grow coconuts,” says Vichra, the owner of the Kampong Chhnang-based coconut business.
“We started in April 2018 because I was looking for a purpose in life and realised that I wanted to be a woman entrepreneur who adhered to the high code of conduct and could provide a win-win solution to all parties, including the environment,” Vichra, 34, tells The Post.
She has been interested in helping others since she was a child. She says she feels she’s following in the footsteps of her father whose business created good jobs for men in seven villages. It’s the memory of her father’s legacy that makes her so determined to continue helping people in her hometown.
“In fact, according to the development documents from Tachhes commune in Kampong Tralach district, 90 per cent of the male workforce in the commune do not have local job opportunities. That was why so many of them were forced to migrate to work in Thailand,” says Vichra, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration from Pannasastra University.
Today, Phka Doung employs three teams of workers in different locations who process coconuts from start to finish – from peeling the coconut husks to filtering the oil.
“We use ripe coconuts grown locally because we can process as many as we need to into finished products without leaving any waste that is harmful to the environment,” she says.
Phka Doung only uses coconuts as the sole raw material for many of their products and the labour-intensive processing of them provides employment to many villagers.
The ripe coconut products that Phka Doung processes include virgin coconut oil – which is the main product of the enterprise – as well as coconut-shell flower pots, coconut-shell bowls, teapot containers, aromatic oils and charcoal powder.
The process of producing coconut oil starts with grinding the “meat” into coconut paste and the refining does not use any heat or chemical methods at any point. The coconut paste is stored and then the oil is filtered from the coconut paste.
Vichra claims that there are many health and beauty benefits to be gained by using coconut oil-based products and some scientific research has been done indicating there are some possible health benefits to coconut oil.
Coconut meat and oil mostly consists of saturated fat, but it comes with other mineral nutrients and anti-oxidants.
Studies have indicated that consuming coconut oil can improve your endurance, give you better oral health through its anti-microbial properties derived from its lauric acid and possibly help you lose weight because the medium chain fatty acids coconuts contain can help people burn fat, but more research needs to be done first to confirm that benefit in the coconut oil context.
Other studies have indicated that using coconut oil externally on your skin or hair definitely helps moisturise and strengthen both of them.
To sum up, while coconut oil hasn’t yet been scientifically proven to be the miracle cure that some on the internet or social media claim it is, there are some potential benefits to its consumption and to its use as a beauty product and it could be a healthy choice when used in moderation.
Vichra uses coconut oil herself regularly and says that it has helped her treat her eczema and she sees huge potential for it as an ingredient in just about any kind of beauty or hygiene product.
“Virgin coconut oil is an indispensable ingredient in soap because it helps increase its ability to cleanse and increases the amount of foaming,” says Vichra, who regularly posts videos to her Facebook about the benefits of coconut-based products.
“The oil can especially help to treat dry, aging and damaged skin, eczema and even minor injuries,” says the entrepreneur. “It’s also great in moisturising creams for the face and body, oils or waxes to wash away cosmetics, skin care lotions, lip balms, hair creams and hair rinses.”
Vichra may be new to the coconut oil business, but this isn’t her first job by any means. She has sales and marketing experience with Japanese media companies and with the exclusive importers to Cambodia of certain foods and beverages from the United States, Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Japan.
Although local coconuts are used in all of Vichra’s products, finding them to use as raw materials can be difficult because many farmers will sell their coconuts while they are young and green instead of leaving them to ripen.
Vichra says that the techniques used in the production of virgin coconut oil aren’t complicated, but you need to pay close attention at each stage as well as take a long time to filter the oil in order to get high quality oil without using any chemicals – which is important to her because she tries to manufacture environmentally-friendly products only.
Phka Doung Handicraft also ordered hand-woven coconut leaves boxes from the women’s weaving community in Chumteav Chreng commune of Samaki Meanchey district in Kampong Chhnang province, so that they can continue their traditional work and provide additional income to their families.
She points out that Phka Doung gives back to society by creating jobs, buying coconuts from local farmers, buying hand-woven coconut leaf boxes from the women’s weaving community and providing opportunities for agricultural students to do internships at production sites to give them work experience that will help them get their careers started.
And as a business, she says, Phka Doung contributes to the promotion of local agriculture and the building of the national economy.
Vichra says that her coconut products are now retailed online and available at pharmacies and organic markets as well as Cambodian product exhibitions.
Wholesalers also distribute them to local companies that sell beauty products and cosmetics and her coconut oil is also sold to larger companies that produce soap.
“Customers should support the products of Phka Doung because they are high quality, unique and made in a transparent manner with a promise to use only raw materials grown in a natural way without any chemicals and combined with clean packaging, professional service and high integrity,” says Vichra.
However, she points to difficulties she faces like high costs and the unreached potential for coconut-based products due to low market demand and shortage of capital for the development of new products through experimentation.
Like many other businesses, Phka Doung has been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and saw the sales of their products plummet temporarily. The disruption to the economy and the labour market also affected the ripe coconut harvesting communities and the women’s weaving communities that her business relies on.
“Now that things are reopening, Phka Doung Handicraft plans to expand our domestic market to further stabilise the business, with hopefully a maximum positive impact for our staff, farmers and the community.
“Japanese, Korean and European people prefer to use Cambodian products. Why not Cambodians?” Vichra says regarding the growth opportunities in the domestic market for coconut oil products in the Kingdom.
Vichra points out that there are many ingredients in mass-produced brand-name beauty products from western or Chinese companies that are harmful to one’s health, such as industrial chemicals.
Moreover, she notes that even if the finished product is safe for use it is often made by workers who are being exposed to dangerous conditions on the production line while making it or the manufacturing process results in damage to the environment.
“My products come from me and are made for you. They will meet your body’s needs without any hazardous chemicals as ingredients or as part of the manufacturing process. Isn’t that something you should support?” asks Vichra.
For more details visit her company’s Facebook page: @phkadoung