Palm trees against poverty
Hay Ly Eang created the Confirel company to exploit palm trees. In his opinion, this tree, a national symbol, can contribute to enriching the country. Journey of an enterprising pharmacist who became a businessman.
He knew nothing about palm trees. Hay Ly Eang however fell in love with them and, today, he puts a lot of hope in their development.
Nothing predestined this pharmacist, born into a city family, to embark on the exploitation of this sugar tree. He left the country in 1975, before the fall of Phnom Penh. Direction France, where he studied pharmacy. He only returned to Cambodia in 1992. A year later, he began to take an interest in palm trees? First step: field surveys on the living conditions of farmers. Gradually, his business plan took shape.
" When I started, those around me thought I was crazy. No one thought I would succeed ," says the 55-year-old. He created his business on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and began operations in 2002.
His battle horse: the fight against poverty. Aware of having been favored by life, he invests his personal money to help the poorest. According to him, it was misery that led his country under the yoke of the Khmer Rouge, between 1975 and 1979. He intends to contribute to the development of Cambodia thanks to his products derived from the palm.
Fight against rural exodus
His company obtains the raw material from farmers in the province of Kampong Speu. Today, it employs 300 families. In the past, they made their palm sugar in the traditional way. But they lacked an enhancement of their product. This is where Confirel comes in. The company receives the sugar and handles its packaging and sale. It also produces, from the juice of flowers, different wines, vinegar or sugar. Ly Hay explains: " To promote palm-based products is to promote the operators ". In Cambodian society, the latter are considered the poorest. The company has therefore chosen to offer them remuneration allowing them to live in decent conditions.
The founder of Confirel is betting on a virtuous circle: by developing palm trees, he believes he is helping to enrich the countryside, thus slowing down the rural exodus and, at the same time, reducing social problems in town, such as the prostitution of young peasant women.
In his mind, palm trees are, on the same scale as Angkor Wat, a facet of the country's national identity. They also have the advantage of being present throughout the kingdom. Hay Ly Eang estimates their number at six million, only half of which are exploited.
Dressed in simple clothes, the rather talkative man calls himself " different ". “ I invested a million dollars in the palm tree? Others prefer to invest in the purchase of land. few in Cambodia because profitability is not immediate ."
While palm-based foods were shunned by foreign customers in the 1990s, they began to make themselves known in the 2000s. Today, Confirel offers 30 different products and 20 more are under study. Since its creation, the company's turnover has continued to increase, from year to year, according to its boss. Half a million dollars is planned for 2008, against 240,000 dollars in 2007. The products, 60% of which are sold to foreign tourists, are also exported to France, the United States, South Korea and even from Vietnam.
Cambodian consumer interest is also growing. Leaders begin to buy them for their official receptions. A good thing, believes Hay Ly Eang, " Buying these foods is showing solidarity with the peasants. The Khmers must support local productions. For their part, producers must not neglect quality. "
The founding president of Confirel is also the creator of the pharmaceutical laboratory PPM. It exists since 1996 and exports to 14 countries. The pharmacist has become a real businessman. Phone in hand, he explains: "Creating a business is easier than making it last." “Cambodians should have more innovative ideas, he adds, to the attention of his fellow citizens.
Author: Ky Soklim
Cambodia evening Hebdo n34, May 29 to June 4, 2008