CEDAC president Yang Saing Koma (2R) and Sim Kong (R), director of the pro-organic NGO, pose with staff of the Country Bird organic restaurant in Phnom Penh.
Organic cuisine is making inroads in Cambodia in an unlikely corner of the capital.
Country Bird is perched on a corner of Street 261, far from the upscale, residential and NGO-packed Boeung Keng Kang or the heavily touristed riverside.
The restaurant opened January 20 and is the newest project of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), an NGO instructing farmers in organic fertilizer and ecological animal raising techniques.
CEDAC chose the location for its first restaurant due to the area's low land prices and proximity to CEDAC's office and organic grocery store on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, which opened at the end of 2003.
The group hopes to open as many as ten more restaurants in Phnom Penh as well as in the cities of Siem Reap, Battambang and Kampong Cham to serve what it sees as a growing enthusiasm for food produced organically.
The NGO wants to stimulate direct links between village farmers and markets and establish commercial enterprises in which the public can invest.
In nurturing organic agriculture, CEDAC says it is helping local farmers tap into a higher-value, niche market which until now has been supplied only by neighboring countries, mainly Vietnam.
The ingredients served at Country Bird come from the center's farmers, and prove that sometimes all it takes to be socially conscious is slurping up some bobor.
The menu offers three Khmer staples – chicken rice porridge, chicken curried noodles and duck eggs – as well as fruit juices, smoothies and alcoholic beverages. Dishes cost about a dollar. Currently the restaurant is only open from 3pm to 9pm but there are plans to add breakfast next month.
"The restaurant's market is the general population," says Yang Saing Koma, president of CEDAC. Students filled the restaurant on a recent Tuesday evening.
Koma says the organization wants to promote the concept of locally and safely produced food, with particular focus on the chickens produced by its farmers.
With ecological chicken raising techniques, including better cages, sanitation and feeding, CEDAC has helped about 2,000 farmers roughly double the number of chickens they raise annually and reduce their chickens' death rate.
By not using pesticides or preservatives, farmers protect themselves and consumers from harmful chemicals, says Koma, adding that ingredients without synthetic substances are tastier, too.
Koma says CEDAC farmers only slaughter healthy animals, while most slaughter houses will cleave anything that still moves.
CEDAC also advocates humane practices towards animals, such as transporting them in cases rather than roping them to motorbikes, and wants to do away with the presale chicken-plumping techniques of water injections and force-feeding.
Posters showing the origin of various ingredients hang on the walls of the restaurant.
"What we're doing is educating Cambodians. Many now don't understand the value of organic goods but there seems to be some momentum," says Koma.
Koma is inspecting property in Beoung Keng Kang, near Tuol Sleng, for the next site.
He says CEDAC will open new sites when enough capital has been raised. Shareholders include CEDAC and some of its senior staff and their relatives and about ten unaffiliated investors.