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Finding profit potential in the rich soil of Pailin

111222_08
Smart Mekong president Chea Kear speaks to the Post at his home base in Pailin province earlier this month. Photo by: Heng Chivoan

PAILIN province,  renowned for its rich soil and natural resources such as gemstones, was also known as one of the most heavily landmined areas of Cambodia. The risk of malaria has also detracted from the appeal of this small province on the Cambodia-Thailand border. Yet more recently, Pailin has attracted agricultural and tourism investment from those willing to take the risk.

Since 2006, Smart Mekong has invested in the potential of the province. Phnom Penh Post reporter Sieam Bunthy sat down with Chea Kear, the company’s president and a long-time Pailin resident, to discuss the challenges of investing in one of Cambodia’s remoter business destinations.

Why are you interested in investing in Pailin, and not in other provinces?
I came to invest in this province  because I saw that Pailin had potential for agricultural products such cassava, corn and beans – especially because the soil is so rich that there is no need for fertiliser. Pailin is a place for plantations. Its rice products give high yields.

When did you start investing in Pailin? And what sector are you investing in now?
I came to do business in this province in 1999, and at that time I was just an ordinary businessman. From 2006 until now, I have invested not only in hotels, clubs and casinos, but also in the agricultural sector. I pay most attention to the agricultural sector.

What accounts for the dearth of investment in the province?
In the past, some found that Pailin province was full of landmines and threatened by malaria. But at present, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre has de-mined the residents’ farmland.  When I came to live in Pailin in 1999, there were at least two people killed by mines. But now there are hardly any mine victims, and mal-aria is no longer a problem.

Can you tell us about the process of investment during a time when landmines and malaria still wreaked havoc on the province?  
In the past, it was very difficult because the road was bad and I was worried it was covered in mines. I even stopped my car often but could hardly walk far from the car wheels. On the other hand, when I  started building a hotel, there were rumors circulating that I had millions of dollars to pour into the jungle. People even joked that this was not a place for people to stay, but for monkeys. But I had confidence that the government would not leave the roads in such terrible condition. So I started my work. My success was gradual.

Can you tell us about the plan to establish a special economic zone in Pailin province?
According to a speech by Y Chhean, the special economic zone will be established in Salakrao district. And if it is established, our people will have more jobs. Now we see that electricity is being connected, and year after year we have more energy connections with Battambang province.

The plans should bring investors and factories to the province. As far as I know, the plan is to build a special economic zone on about two hectares of land. At the same time, the province has been preparing to form a chamber of commerce. After formation, we believe that it will attract more investors because foreign investors need to be well informed about the location. If there is chamber of commerce, it will give investors more opportunity to come to the province.

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