The vast majority of reusable bamboo chopsticks are imported; meaning the environmental cost of transporting them can sometimes outweigh the benefits that come with avoiding cheap disposable cutlery. One man in Takeo province is slowly restoring that balance.

Sim Sothy says his products are every bit the equal of the imported products that are gaining favour with the eco-conscious in the Kingdom.

The 41 year old established his manufacturing concern – Khmer Bamboo Chopsticks Handicraft – five months ago, in Traing district’s Samnorkmao village of Thloak commune.

Although he is proud that he has created employment opportunities in the village, he has larger goals.

“I want to cultivate the mindset of Cambodian people to take advantage of the Kingdom’s existing raw materials. There are so many resources around us that can be used for our advantage,” he said.

“I also want more and more Khmer to turn to local products. The number of Cambodians who are using local produce – whether bananas or cassava, for example – to produce items as diverse as kramas or jewellery is astonishing. They are of the same quality as imported goods. I think it is a clear sign of how the Kingdom has embraced education in all fields,” he added.

Sothy explained that his products were slowly gaining market share. Although so far, he only sells them in Takeo, many local people are becoming customers of his firm.

“I am always pleased to see local people supporting local products. One more advantage of my chopsticks is that they are chemical free – I care about people’s health more than money,” he said.

Sothy said that he obtains bamboo from Kampong Speu and Kratie provinces, as its light coloured texture suits his designs.

“The Takeo bamboo is darker, and often contains ants’ nests,” he explained. “The bamboo shoots are first split by a machine and then dried in the sun for four or five days. Once dried, they are cut to length before being polished.”

He added that his splitting, polishing and packaging machinery was all imported from China. In a single day he can produce up to 30 boxes of chopsticks, each of which contains 40 packages of 24 pairs of chopsticks – a whopping 28,800 pairs.

“Each box sells for 26,000 riel. We are seeing demand grow, as more and more people learn that my products are chemical free,” he said.

“We could increase production if we used a machine to dry out the split bamboo stalks, but I prefer the natural approach. I think more and more Cambodians are starting to feel the same way,” he added.

At present, Sothy employs ten local people at his factory.

“I am proud that they are local people and that I am making a small contribution to reducing migration away from the province,” he said.

Som Chanthol, chief of Thloak commune, told The Post that he was pleased that Sothy was providing employment to local people.

“It is always hard to be far away from home, so it is great that they can find work here,” he said. “It is perfect for them. It is close to their homes, so when they finish work, they can spend time with their families and even do some farming.”