December 22, 2023
PHNOM PENH – Born in Stung Treng, Muth Chakrya established a cashew nut shop in Sre Krasaing Village of the province’s Siem Bok District. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she experienced a severe financial crisis, leading her to abandon her role as a broker in purchasing agricultural products from farmers. The crisis prompted a prolonged visit to her hometown.
It was during this time that she transformed the crisis into an opportunity, starting Handcrafted Cashew Nuts Stung Treng, with a capital of $20,000. Her shop enabled farmers to sell their nuts at reasonable prices for domestic production.
Having started with $20,000 just two years ago, her business has now grown to a value of $1 million and provides employment to 45 people. Chakrya harbours ambitions to export Cambodian cashew nuts to international markets worldwide.
Charkyra recently shared insights about her company’s evolution and future goals.
Could you tell us about the journey of opening Handcrafted Cashew Nuts Stung Treng? When did it begin, and what inspired its inception?
My cashew nut business began operating in October 2021, so it has been two years now. The reason for starting the shop was the spread of Covid-19. When the pandemic struck, we had to suspend our business in Siem Reap and take a break from work in Phnom Penh. My children also had to suspend their studies, and we decided to visit my hometown.
When we arrived here, we noticed there were a lot of cashew nuts available at low prices. This led us to look for markets in other countries, where we saw that cashews were processed and sold at higher prices than ours.
During the period when our work and business were on hold, I thought about ways to improve my family’s situation. It was then that I decided to start the cashew business, recognising that it could not only better our family’s circumstances but also assist our local farmers by getting fair prices by processing the cashews, rather than selling them raw.
Later, I started researching and attended training courses with various organisations, including the Cashew nuts Association of Cambodia (CAC). Just one month after completing the training, we launched our business.
Could you share with us when your shop started exporting cashew nuts to international markets and which countries you are currently exporting to?
In our Stung Treng province, people grow a lot of cashew trees. However, we questioned whether Cambodian cashew nuts were well-known in the international market. This led us to research the pricing and processing methods of cashew in global markets.
We found that internationally, cashews were processed into various products such as different flavours, desserts, cakes, etc. Our local cashews had been primarily sold only as fresh nuts, which limited their added value and left the international community unaware of their quality.
Then we started exploring how to increase the incomes of our farmers, create more jobs in our community and enhance the reputation of our country’s produce. Therefore, we sought out new processing techniques and markets. To date, we have successfully processed our cashew nuts into various flavours and have received substantial support from our customers.
Over the past two years, how much support have your cashew nuts garnered from customers in both domestic and international markets, and to which markets have they been exported?
In the past two years, our cashew nuts have received a lot of support, particularly from international markets. We have diversified our product range by offering a variety of flavours, including those unique to Cambodia.
Our cashews have been sold in numerous countries, including the UK, US, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Australia. We have also sent samples to France for taste testing. Our products have undergone nutritional testing in the US and chemical testing in Japan, which has contributed to our quality recognition.
Although we are relatively new to the business, we have already started exporting cashew nuts in small quantities to these overseas markets. In December, we began exporting to Hong Kong, which we anticipate will soon become one of our largest markets.
Your cashew processing venture, being only two years old, has quickly reached overseas markets. Could you share the key factors that enabled such rapid international expansion?
It is very important for us to promote our products in international markets to achieve quick recognition. The reason our cashew nuts have gained so much recognition in the last two years is due to our active participation in international exhibitions, including those in Germany and the US.
Recently, we attended the World Cashew Conference in Dubai, along with the CAC. I was the only person who brought our Cambodian cashew nuts to the event. Our presentation highlighted that Cambodia is the second-largest producer of cashew nuts after Ivory Coast. Our cashews took them by surprise – everyone was asking why our nuts were so big!
Since that event, our cashew nuts have become synonymous with Cambodia in the eyes of many. As a result, we are proud to be hosting the World Cashew Conference in Cambodia next February. This is a significant milestone for us as it will further increase global awareness of Cambodian cashews.
Over 90 per cent of Cambodia’s fresh cashew nuts are exported to Vietnam, with only five to 10 per cent undergoing processing. As a cashew business owner, how do you motivate other processors to increase the export of processed cashews, rather than just exporting fresh nuts?
In Cambodia, it’s well known that there are only a few cashew processors, unable to meet market demands. Cashew nuts are highly marketable, but in Cambodia, we face challenges due to a lack of production technology and investment capital.
Cashew processing requires a lot of technology and capital. While there is no shortage of market demand, we struggle with insufficient capital and production techniques.
I encourage investors, both domestic and overseas, who are interested in the cashew sector, to consider investing in the processing of cashew nuts for export. These products have great potential in the international market. This represents an opportunity for all of us to bring our nuts to the world.
What are your future perspectives and goals for enhancing the international fame of Cambodia’s cashews, and how do you plan to achieve the government’s objective of becoming the largest exporter of cashews?
Our goal is to export domestically-produced cashew nuts from Cambodia to global markets, showcasing both the quality and origin of our produce, and in turn, bolstering the economy of Cambodian farmers.
In the past two years, our business has helped improve the livelihoods of many in our community. Previously, they had to migrate to neighbouring countries for low-paying jobs. However, since we established our shop here, most community members no longer need to migrate. We have also provided them with training in environmental awareness and languages.
It’s crucial that our staff receive social benefits. They are enrolled in the National Social Security Fund [NSSF] and enjoy holidays as per the labour laws. Our enterprise adheres to legal requirements and respects human rights. We have also focused on promoting the role of women, with up to 80 per cent of our workforce being female.