Cambodians have been producing small quantities of milk from soy beans and green beans for years, but they have not been able to expand into hugely profitable businesses because a lack of canning or paper-carton factories prevents them from making greater quantities of milk.
But now local producers have begun calling on the government to help support the industry through technological advances.
“It is good to drink it, but it doesn’t keep longer than one day,” said 51-year-old Phu Bak, who has produced soy milk in his Phnom Penh home for the past 10 years. He is capable of producing about 100 liters of milk per day. He and his wife sell their product at local schools, and he makes between $300 and $350 per month.
Phu Bak uses traditional production equipment and transfers the final product into water bottles by hand.
“When we sell the milk we transfer it from the water bottle into small plastic bags,” he said.
He and his wife rise at 5 am every morning to clean the bottles and glasses that hold their soy milk.
Hul Lim, an undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said that his ministry would like to see small-scale soy milk producers benefit from technological advances, but has not yet come up with a development program.
“I will raise the topic at the ministry, we will see what we can do about it,” he said.
Phu Bak, a father of three, says that his standard of living is better than it was a decade ago, but it would be a lot better if he could keep his product fresh enough to distribute it in the provinces.
“People drink fresh soy milk, like people cook fresh fish to eat. Drinking canned soy milk is like people eating dried fish,” Phu Bak said.
“Some of my clients ask me all the time whether my bottles and glasses are clean,” said Yang Leang, 19, another soy milk producer. She said that consumers are very concerned with food security and hygiene and would buy more soy milk if they felt confident that the packaging was sanitary.