Saving palm sugar business one stove at a time

Efficient cookstove
Ms. Um Sarun, 40, a beneficiary of UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme energy-efficient cookstove project, stires palm sugar. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

Kampong Chhnang – Making palm sugar is an occupation that many Cambodian villagers do after rice harvest to earn additional income. Twice daily, men scale up and down palm trees to tap the juice to boil down in giant pots to extract concentrated sugar.

The decoction process usually takes more than two hours and a lot of firewood. Now villagers in Chaong Maong commune, Kampong Chhnang province, 90 kilometres north of Phnom Penh, hope to see some of the bottlenecks in their trade removed with the help of an energy-efficient cook stove scheme.

“The new stove burns fewer amount of wood and shortens the time to make sugar too,” said Hoy Sareth, a 44-year-old villager.


  • US$10,000 worth of firewood purchase per year is expected to be saved when the 284 stove units for the villagers is completed in April 2014
  • The energy efficient cook stove saves woods of between 30 and 40 percent of the traditional cook stoves and saves about 30 percent of time

Until recently he had been using the traditional clay stove – a round shape with a hole dug into the ground to make fire compartment. But because it lacks in design proper ventilation outlet, Hoy Sareth said the stove consumed a lot of firewood, chipping away at his profit margin.

The new stove, built from bricks, comes with a ventilation system to allow wood to burn more efficiently. It is also designed in a way that helps trap fire inside, resulting in a shorter cooking period, said Mr. Ly Pheara, director of Association for Human Resource Development and Health Education, an NGO based in the province. His group is working to install the new stove for the villagers as part of a climate change mitigation project supported by United Nations Development Programme and GEF Small Grants Programme.

With the traditional stove, it takes 130 minutes to boil 35 liters of palm juice in a giant pot to get 5 kilos of brown sugar. A family normally needs on average 5.3 tons of wood during a 150-day palm sugar season between December and May.

In contrast, Mr. Ly Pheara said, the new stove takes only 100 minutes to process the same quantity of juice. As a result, only 3.6 tons of wood, representing a 31 percent reduction, are needed during the entire season.

“This occupation, especially using the traditional stove, does take a toll on the forest. It still does with the improved stove design but at least it helps reduce the amount of wood for boiling the juice,” he said.

Making palm sugar is an arduous and dangerous work. Men get up and down the trees on bamboo ladders and often without any safety harness. Every day from mid-afternoon till sunset, Hoy Sareth and his son climb 35 trees, hoisting empty cylinders to tap the juice. At dawn, they make their rounds again to bring the juice down for cooking. Hoy Sareth said he is aware of the effect that palm sugar production can cause to the forest, “but we don’t have other alternative to support our living.” He added that, however, by using the new stove he now can save 100,000 riel (US$25) worth of firewood expense a month, nearly half of what he used to spend on fuel in the past.    

“The chance to earn profit now looks better for us,” he said.

Mr. Ly Pheara said that an estimated total of US$10,000 worth of firewood purchase is expected to be saved when construction of 284 stove units for the villagers is completed in April 2014.