Officials estimate that, in 2020, some 1.1 million Cambodians migrated to other countries for employment. More than half of those were women, and most crossed into neighboring Thailand to work.
But near the border with Thailand, in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, Mr. Sous Vong, co-owner and Manager of Veha Juice, Ltd., himself a former migrant worker in the Republic of Korea, is providing employment that enables more women in his community to work where they live.
The owners of Veha Juice, Ltd., located in Nimit Village near Poipet have a vision: to process and market healthy agricultural products for consumers, meet national and international standards, and bring more jobs, prosperity, and stability to local communities.
Their vision evolved during a time the group of young men worked in an automobile factory in the Republic of Korea. They wanted to return home to their families in Cambodia but needed viable economic options.
So they did their homework. It was a long process, and several options were considered and discarded before they settled on food processing.
“There are a lot of farmers in Cambodia growing a lot of different fruits,” said Mr. Vong. “But much of the fruit goes to waste if it isn’t eaten or processed immediately. We decided to create a business centered around preserving and selling this healthy food.”
They founded Veha Juice, Ltd. in 2019.
The company’s name is aspirational; they don’t yet make juice because the juicing machines are expensive. But they are drying and canning fruit to help fill their business coffers and make Juice a reality, not an aspiration.
For now, they fill the shelves in local markets and nearly 50 Tela stores with processed mango, dragonfruit, longan, and pineapple.
In one day, Veha Juice workers can wash, peel, cut, steam, and set to dry up to 500 kilos of dragonfruit or mango. On another day, they process longan fruit and its syrup to sell in glass jars and, soon, in the 100,000 cans they are importing from China.
They also produce and bottle purified water. And they manufacture the bottles. Every bit of space in Veha’s sprawling business is put to productive use – except for the one room explicitly reserved for the eventual juicing machine.
The employees are women from nearby villages. Providing local jobs is important to the shareholders of Veha. They employ 18 women, with plans to increase this to as many as 50 by the end of 2023.
“This is light manufacturing work – not heavy work – and the women can work close to where they live. They don’t have to migrate. They can earn money without leaving their country – their home. This is good for them, their children, the whole family.”
Supporting local farmers is also important to Mr. Vong and his fellow shareholders. Veha purchases about 40 percent of its fruit from individual farmers. The rest they buy through an agricultural co-op formed by a consortium of smallholder farmers.
“It’s all about us working together to help everyone be more successful, “ Mr. Vong says. “We want to mobilize to produce great agricultural products here. We want to help local farmers and local workers.”
While they now sell through wholesalers in four provinces and on Facebook, they want to link to international online shopping sites eventually. They also recently met with distributors during an ICONE-sponsored business trip to Mongolia and plan to pursue those connections when they have met the international standards required for exporting foodstuffs.
Mr. Vong is familiar with the stringent tests required to verify the safety of products. He has strict health and hygiene protocols in place throughout the processing facility. He also runs Veha’s small laboratory that measures the nutrient levels of the fruits they process. He gained these critical skills during his time in Korea by working for free in a laboratory every weekend for two years.
And then, he was prepared to come home and put his knowledge, passion, and business skills to work for his community.