The sesame seed has a long and storied history, with historians arguing over its origins and migration route across the globe. Some believe the plant originated in East Africa; others believe its roots are in Asia. Egyptians made flour from the seeds, and there is evidence that sesame seeds were used by the Chinese more than 5,000 years ago.
Fast forward to 2020, and world production of sesame seeds was seven million metric tons. They are used in baking, as condiments, and crushed for their nutty, flavorful oil. And sesame is grown locally in Battambang province, where Mr. Hou Sopheap has begun an enterprise to produce and sell the rich, golden oil – and teach farmers how to do the same.
“My desire to do something in agriculture started a long time ago,” said Mr. Hou. “ I didn’t want to be a farmer but to be involved somehow in processing the products.”
But, he did not act on his desire until he came across a posting by GIZ, the major German development agency, offering training in cold press techniques to qualified individuals.
“I didn’t really have experience, but I did have a small cold press machine, “ he said, “that I’d never even taken out of its box.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Hou applied and was accepted into the program. He was trained on machines that were different from and larger than the one he had ordered online from AliBaba.com, but the techniques were the same. When he finished the training, he knew he wanted to invest in the next steps: finding a high-quality product to produce consistently and cost-effectively with a ready consumer market.
He originally envisioned using coconuts for their popular oil but soon realized the ones available in local markets were primarily “young” coconuts, not good for oil production. The ones he could process into oil were more expensive than he thought prudent – and are most often imported, which he found unappealing.
“I wanted to use local agricultural products to help the local farmers and local economy,” he said.
He ultimately settled on the storied sesame, easily found in Battambang, and KH Oil Press was formed.
Sesame seeds are made up of 45-50 percent oil, which is pressed out through a metal spiral in his small machine. The by-product remaining – after he completes pressing for oil – can be used in chicken feed or ground up and used as a condiment on rice.
It is a slow process. Currently, his team of five female employees can produce about eight liters per day. Because his production facility is in his home on a porch overlooking the Sangkae River, he cannot expand that capacity. Nor can he apply for the national or international certificates needed to sell his products in major markets or through international shopping sites.
That will all change when he builds his new production facility on the nearby land he has purchased. He will have the space for larger machines for greater output and will meet the specifications that enable him to apply for the necessary health standard certificates.
In addition to producing and marketing KH Oil, Mr. Hou plans to show sesame farmers how to make their own oil to sell, and help them establish their own vertical operations, so they are not solely reliant on purchasers of the seeds – a demand that can ebb and flow.
“I want to train them, not compete with them,” he said. “We want to help all of us do better, not just me.”
Glass bottles of golden sesame oil line the shelves on his porch and inside a shop at the front of his home. Regular customers stock up, some as many as four bottles at a time, exchanging their empty bottles for full ones. They use the oil for vegetable stir-fries, meat and chicken marinades, and even for skin care. They can purchase directly from Mr. Hou, in one of the local markets, or through his Facebook page.