Chre flour, also known as Sago flour, is derived from the sago palm (Metroxylon Sagu) and is used in making vermicelli, cakes and various other desserts.

In Loeuk Dek commune’s Po Mith village in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district, producing the flour is not only a traditional business but also culturally significant, as recognised by the provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts.

Unlike the palm, the sago tree does not yield juice or fruit. Harvesting involves felling the tree, as the powder is extracted from the trunk.

Yi Toeur, a producer in the village, tells The Post that making flour from the sago palm is an ancestral business in the village, with only eight families continuing the traditional practice. He adds that the trees were originally planted by older generations.

He explains that the process of making the flour involves cutting down the tree, segmenting it into pieces, removing the bark from the trunk and using the remainder for production.

After bark removal, the trunk is manually shaved into thin slices. This task requires significant manpower, with women assisting in less physically demanding tasks. The slices are then ground, mixed with water and filtered to separate the pulp, which is then dried.

The dried pulp is ground again into a fine, chemical-free powder, ideal for making cakes, desserts and other foods.

Sago leaves are also versatile, used for cooking purposes and weaving mats and hammocks.

Toeur shares that he has been in the business since 1979, continuing a long-standing village tradition.

He notes that the trees are not actively replanted. When the fruit ripens, some seeds naturally embed in the soil, while others are washed away during floods.

He says the market price for the flour remains low.

Toeur mentions that he can only sell it to brokers for 1,100 to 1,200 riel ($0.272-$0.297) per kg, facing no competition due to the absence of imported sago products.

"I attended a provincial-level meeting with officials to discuss the 'one village, one product' [OVOP] initiative. At the meeting, I displayed both sago flour and cakes made from it. However, it seemed there was no demand for them,” he says.

According to Toeur, production requires approximately five to six people, costing about 35,000 riel ($9) per day for women and 40,000 riel ($10) for men. On average, the eight shops collectively support around 40 households in the community. However, they face challenges with production costs.

Currently, in Koh Thom district, only two communes, Kampong Kong and Loeuk Dek, have a significant number of sago palm trees. Yet, no one in the former engages in the business.

Vart Rath, a member of the Kampong Kong community, explains that the main reason is the lack of sufficient water, a crucial resource for production of the flour.

Rath observes that while thousands of the trees, both old and new, exist in the villages of the commune, they are often felled for farming land. This ongoing practice raises concerns about the potential extinction of sago palms in the area.

“The tree offers benefits similar to palm trees, but it does not grow as easily in all provinces," he notes.

For insight into the cultivation of the trees, Bun Tuon Simona, director of the Kandal provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, could not be reached for comment.

Muong Sarim, director of the Kandal provincial culture department, says the palms bear fruit at the age of 50 to 60, and to harvest them, they must first be cut down.

She says the department recognises these trees as a part of natural culture.

“Conservation may be challenging due to difficulties in replanting and their natural growth from fallen ripe fruit. We have already included sago flour in the OVOP programme of Kandal province,” she adds.