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Growing a business naturally

120120_08

HCC Group Co Ltd began importing natural fertiliser from Japan in 2007 in order to bring non-chemical growing agents to the Kingdom. The company delivered 500 tonnes to Cambodia in its first year, and  10,000 tonnes in 2011. Phnom Penh Post reporter Siem Bunthy interviewed HCC Group executive director Chan So Kheang about the present and future need for natural fertilisers in the Kingdom.

Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
HCC Group executive director Chan So Kheang talks to the Post at his Phnom Penh headquarters last week.

What inspired you to start your business?
Well, I saw that countries neighbouring Cambodia, such as Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, all regarded agriculture as a leading sector. Food reserves should not be allowed to run low here, considering that our country has a lot of land for farming. That farmland provides an opportunity to run my business. And, by importing fertiliser from Japan, we don’t have to worry about quality.

When you founded this business, how much start-up capital did you have?
I began this business with only US$200,000. We did not have investments with another company, but took in capital from our friends. Discussing investment opportunities with others is certainly an option, but the process that we follow leads to investing in Cambodia’s agricultural sector, meaning that we grow by ourselves.

Our vision is to promote and encourage natural farming, because right now we have problems with unclean food that is full of chemicals. So our main stance is to promote natural agriculture. Specifically, we want all farmers – wholesalers, retailers and traders – to turn to natural products.

How much does your fertiliser typically sell for?
One 50-kilogram sack of our power fertiliser costs 105,000 riel ($25.81), and 115,000 riel for the same weight in grain fertiliser.  Our product can actually be cheaper than certain chemical fertiliser, which can fetch around 140,000 to 160,000 riel for a 50-kilogram sack. If compared to the same natural fertilisers, our price may run a bit higher. Crop growth with natural fertilisers may take an extra week, but the harvest is greater, according to the tests we have conducted in provin-ces throughout the country.

Do you think most Cambodians understand the differences between chemical and natural fertilisers?  
I’ve found that 65 to 70 per cent of people know about natural fertiliser, but don’t know how to tell the difference or tell what they are receiving when they purchase it. We spend time trying to educate them and encourage them to buy natural fertiliser, but that takes a lot of effort because some of them have been using chemical fertiliser for 30 or 40 years.  So it’s not easy to suddenly change their minds. When farmers try out our natural product, however, they are often encouraged when they see that our fertiliser brings in better crops. We have even gone to villages and communes to hold seminars, but it will still take time to be implemented more fully.

Where do most of your customers come from, and where do you distribute your products?
Our fertiliser can be used for all kinds of crops.  Some of our biggest demand comes from those who grow cassava, corn, sugar cane and rubber.  We distribute to cities and provinces  throughout the country.

The government has issued a policy to increase Cambodia’s exports to one million tonnes of milled rice in 2015. What do you think your company can contribute to that policy?
If Cambodia is expected to export a million tonnes of milled rice, we have to think about how we are going to produce that much rice.  The increased production that our fertiliser yields will certainly help in achieving this goal.

Do you think Cambodia currently has enough raw mater-ials to produce this kind of natural fertiliser?
At the moment, Cambodia doesn’t have enough raw mat-erials to produce natural fert-iliser on a large scale. Natural fertiliser is produced from materials we discard: for example, chicken and cow bones, dried fish meat or other animal wastes. We combine these to make a good product. But I believe that within three to five years, we will have enough resources and can begin production within the Kingdom.

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