Written by Kosoma Kim | Edited by Abigail Perriman
Robyn O’brien, the author of The Unhealthy Truth, said: “We pay the doctor to make us better when we should really be paying the farmer to keep us healthy.” This quote reminded me of the concern on vegetables imported into Cambodia, which most people believe to be unsafe to eat. As a result, it can be seen that there are a lot of new organic markets in Phnom Penh in the past few years.
On the way to Takeo to visit farmers, I am sitting down with Chanreth Nhoeun, Co-founder of Psar Srok Srae and Srok Srae Home Garden, to interview him about his businesses and his 7 years of experience working with farmers in Cambodia and Israel, where he learnt about modern agriculture involving innovative farming practices that help farmers increase efficiency and reduce the number of natural resources used. Currently, Chanreth is a fellow of DakDam Labs – an agricultural business program for impact inventors by Impact Hub Phnom Pen. What is Chanreth’s dream of making a difference in growing vegetables in Cambodia?
Q1: What is Psar Srok Srae & Srok Srae Home Garden?
Chanreth: Psar Srok Srae is a trusted market providing organic and GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) vegetables and fruits produced by Cambodian farmers from Kandal province, Mondolkiri, Takeo, Tbung Khom and Battambang. We also sell animal products which we get directly from farmers. Our team also work with farmers to improve their techniques on vegetable farming. Srok Srae Home Garden is a new initiative of Psar Srok Srae. We provide one-stop service to people in the city who want to have their own vegetable garden regardless of the size of space; whether on their rooftop, balcony or in front of their flats.
Chanreth (purple T-shirt) with Srok Srae Home Garden team introducing “Smart Net House” to the farmer at Tram Kak, Takeo
Q2: What makes your businesses unique?
Chanreth: We provide 100% Khmer high-quality products with lower prices when compared to other organic shops in Phnom Penh. Behind that, we work closely with farmers from seedling to harvesting by providing technical support to ensure high-quality products. We are a strong team with a strong background, from agronomy to agro-engineering, food processing to marketing, who are passionate about improving the agriculture sector in Cambodia. This really keeps us going.
Ing Oamrom co-founder of Psar Srok Srae with Chanreth on Klahan9 talking about their business.
Q3: What inspired you to start Srok Srae Home Garden?
Chanreth: You can not tell if the vegetables you buy from the market are safe to eat or not by just looking; you just have to trust. There are a lot of organic & GAP shops now available in Phnom Penh; which is good. However, agriculture test-kit & labs in Cambodia are not yet widely available. It is very expensive, small shops cannot afford for this verification. Unless you are the one who grows your own vegetables, then you can be sure! The demand for safe vegetables is high. There are a lot of people especially in Phnom Penh coming to us showing their interest in creating their own vegetable garden. Growing your own vegetables is actually fun and healthy. It helps reduce stress, cost and health concerns.
Chanreth and team are prototyping “Smart Net House” as part of Srok Srae Home Garden with their mentor from DakDam Labs
Q4: In your opinion, what are the challenges in building a successful agriculture-related business in Cambodia?
Chanreth: Farmers and markets are the two important components in improving agriculture in Cambodia. However, comparing to neighbouring countries, Cambodian farmers have low techniques in farming, all they do is stick with traditional methods. The lack of knowledge in accessing a competitive market is another challenge for them. Due to the lack of control on imported vegetables to Cambodia, the market price offered to farmers is unreliable; sometimes ridiculously low. While those imported vegetables are cheaper, a lot of Cambodian farmers has been affected by this.
A farmer in Tram Kok, Takeo
Q5: What is the future you want to see in Cambodian’s agriculture sector in the next 5 years?
Chanreth: Currently, the supply of Khmer vegetables in the market is low and more expensive. I hope it will become cheaper so that everyone (even those with low incomes) can also consume high quality and safe vegetables. We also hope that Cambodian farmers can produce enough to be able to export.
Q6: What is your advice for Cambodians, in general, who want to support agriculture in Cambodia?
Chanreth: A lot of people have already said it, but I am saying it again and again to our farmers and everyone related “Really really study about the market first before you start producing.” In addition, I highly encourage Cambodian consumers to support more Cambodian products; the small support from you will give farmers the encouragement to continue growing us healthy vegetables.
Let’s go organic!