[NLS Story Series] Cooking up beautiful transformations

NEW LAO STOVE Story Series

The NLS story series tells of stories of people – their past, their struggles, and most of all, their successes and hopes – in rural Cambodia and how their beautiful journey is in part defined by their having crossed paths with the New Lao Stove.

The Stories of CHEA ROEAN and POL NEANG, road warriors.


A farmer, and a goods distributor since 1998, Chea Roean started selling the New Lao Stove in 2007. The NLS gives him the most profit because of high demand for it and higher profit margin than other stove and pottery goods.

Chea Roean, 42, had just come back from twenty days driving his oxcart on the road, plying cookstoves and pottery products. To sell his merchandise he had traveled more than 400 kilometers from his base in Kampong Chhnang through Phnom Penh and Kandal province up to the Koh Thum district near the Vietnam border. And for days of wandering and nights of sleeping along some grassy road or wherever nightfall catches him, he makes a net profit of USD180 to USD200, most of which he says, is from the New Lao Stove.

Depending on whom he sells it to, he makes a profit of USD1.30 (retailer) or USD1.65 (end user) for every stove that he sells, and for that has been making USD60-80 more than from before. Roean started carrying the New Lao Stove in 2007 when his customers, both retailers and end users, had begun asking for it.

 

On the road for up to 25 days each month, Roean relies on his pair of oxen to carry up to 250 pieces of different stove and pottery products. The most that he carries is the NLS taking up over half of the space in his cart.

 

Pol Neang began to carry the NLS when retailers started asking for it. He says he will continue selling the NLS “for as long as there is high demand for it.”

The same thing had happened to Pol Neang, 37, another distributor from Kampong Chhnang. In 2000 while delivering stoves to a regular retailer customer in neighboring Kampong Cham, his customer asked him for the “changkran angka” (the ‘’NGO stove’’), as it came to be known, in reference to GERES’ improved cookstove initiative, when it first entered the market. He had no idea what the customer was talking about and so asked his fellow distributors and the wholesalers what that stove was.

Later, however, the popularity of the New Lao Stove owed itself to a strong presence in the market (thanks to a strong supply chain) and the stove’s favorable qualities which soon made the rounds among Cambodian stove users through word-of-mouth: it does not consume as much fuel as traditional stoves, cooks faster and with less smoke, and it looks good with its silver bucket sheet and is durable. Before long customers would demand no stove other than the “changkran lao thmei” (the New Lao Stove) or the “changkran mean rob reang saart” (the pretty stove).

From carrying an initial 30 New Lao Stove in 2000, Neang gradually increased the number of New Lao Stoves he carried to 100 on his then oxcart to eventually reach 250 presently in the truck that he drives each time he travels out to ply various stove and pottery products. He earns a net profit of somewhere from USD150 to USD200 each trip which he makes up to three times a month.

“It’s a decent way to earn a living. It’s enough for my four children. But it’s not something that I’d wish for them to do when they grow up,” Neang says, alluding to the concomitant difficulty of the job which requires him to be away on the road for up to 10 days. He spoke about the risks of coming upon accidents and robbers – incidents that every distributor has had a brush with at one time or another.

Half of Pol Neang’s truck is loaded with improved cookstoves: equal number of New Lao Stove and Neang Kongrey Stove, and the other half with various stoves and pottery products. Neang makes up to three trips each month and earns around USD600.

Roean, for example, had had his oxen stolen too many times – four times to be precise – and had at one time had an encounter with a group of young gang who demanded money or they would make good with their threat of smashing every pottery merchandise that he was then carrying.

Both Neang and Roean dream bigger dreams for each their children. And so they will continue traveling this sometimes dangerous roads atop either their oxen or truck carrying a host of various goods. And they will both continue selling the New Lao Stove “for as long as there is a high demand for it.” GERES, April 2015