Palm Juice Profits May Stop Tree-Cutting

Exporters are hoping they can make the juice of palm trees profitable before the national symbol disappears under the ax of desperate villagers.

The sweet alcoholic wine produced from palm juice is a local staple, but farmers have been steadily selling their palm trees as wood, said Sok Siphana, secretary of state at the Commerce Mini­stry.

He said a few in­vestors want palm trees to be­come sustainable sources of in­come by producing palm wine for export.

“To cut down the palm tree is to destroy your own economy. When villagers cut down the tree, they can only make money one time,” Sok Siphana said.

At least one palm wine producer, Confirel, is now operating in Cambodia and exporting its product to Singapore and France, said Hay Ly Eang, the factory’s foun­der. After more than 10 years of testing formulas and a $500,000 factory construction project, sales have soared, Hay Ly Eang said.

“The buyers are always complaining because we can’t produce enough to fill their orders,” he said.

“People must preserve the palm tree. It is a symbol of Cam­bodia. Through the palm tree we can make our country a better place,” he said.

Two other wine production factories are expected to open soon, with construction at one operations center in Kompong Cham province scheduled to begin this month, said Sam Pisey, who is heading the two projects.

Construction costs are expected to reach $150,000, but Sam Pisey said he is optimistic about finding buyers in European countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Finland. Plans for a second factory are incomplete, and the factories have not yet been named, he said.

“Our principle is to preserve the palm tree, because right now people are not taking advantages of the tree as a resource,” Sam Pisey said.

Confirel numbers suggest the production of palm wine could be a feasible economic incentive to keep villagers from selling off the trees as lumber. The factory purchases about 1,000 liters of the raw juice a day in order to make palm wine.

A half-liter bottle costs about $3 overseas and $2.50 in-country, Hay Ly Eang said. He said a farm­er could earn more than $200 a year by selling palm wine to the factory.

Officials have said villagers sell palm trees for as little as $1.25 each. Most of the trees are transported to Vietnam, where they are processed largely to make chopsticks and other utensils.

The Confirel factory produces two grades of alcohol content—eight degree and 11 degree—and packages the wine in bottles im­ported from France.

Sam Pisey said his product would sell at about $2.50 per 750-milliliter bottle, and that his plan­ned factory will produce some 3,000 liters a day.

“I appeal to the people to preserve their palm trees. We hope people can make a better living by selling the juice,” he said.

Some government officials are making the same overtures. Sok Siphana has publicly asked villagers to stop cutting down palm trees and promised to lure invest­ors to manufacture palm wine while seeking out foreign markets.

Kompong Cham Agricultural Director Kong Chhoeun said he is asking villagers to keep their trees intact.

“I will gather the people into communities to collect the palm juice for sale to the factories,” Kong Chhoeun said.

Though palm wine has long been a favored beverage, and many people make their own, it will be difficult to deter farmers from selling their trees for a quick profit. The sale of palm trees has gained popularity as a source of revenue in recent years.

“The palm tree is the Cambo­dia soul. It can help reduce poverty in the local communities,” Sok Siphana said. “We must convince the palm tree traders to stop buying the palm tree and invest in the palm juice for factories.”

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