AgriBee (Cambodia) Plc, a value chain management company, aims to scale up the performance of key players in the agricultural and agribusiness sector and improve operations at all stages of the supply process, to deliver more valuable products to end customers.
Founded in December 2019, the company has been developing BeeApp to provide stakeholders in the sector with easier access to funds, technical assistance and other market-oriented services and supports.
The firm identifies these key players as farmers, agri-input suppliers, crop traders, rice millers and exporters, and financial institutions, and connects them through the platform. It places great emphasis on farmers, as one of the most vulnerable actors in the sector.
The app has onboarded 3,000 smallholder farmers, 300 BeeShops, 20 BeeDepo, 20 crop traders, 70 rice millers, five agri-input suppliers, five exporters and two microfinance institutions (MFI).
AgriBee is also lending a hand in arrangements for the collection of 100,000 tonnes of paddy, and contract farming agreements with 12 agricultural cooperatives.
Securing financing has proven particularly difficult for agricultural actors, with loans to the sector consistently accounting for fewer than 20 per cent, according to central bank data.
During the Covid-19 crisis, the sector continued to enjoy growth, although a great deal of potential is believed to have been squandered due to limited processing capacity and the fact that exports comprise predominantly raw materials.On top of that, investors have generally remained hesitant to enter the market.
The company’s chairman Mak Chamroeun sat down with The Post’s May Kunmakara to discuss more about what AgriBee has been up to, and how it has improved Cambodian agricultural value chains.
What does AgriBee do to lessen the vulnerability of farmers to agricultural risks?
We’ve specifically classified farmers as “vulnerable” and assist them over what we see as the three key stages.
The first is the funding stage. Farmers are known to be very vulnerable to financing constraints. They are often classified as high-risk customers and face higher costs, owing to many perceived shortcomings, such as low financial literacy and discipline, or not recognising how to use funds responsibly.
Most farmers obtain financing in cash from MFIs. When people receive loans in cash – either through a bank account or physical banknotes – they can freely use the funds for any purpose outlined in their loan agreement.
Tracking AgriBee’s experiences with 5,000 farmers in 14 provinces, we have noticed that most farmers – 80 per cent – purchase agri-inputs on credit,which means they take the materials at higher prices, and pay them back during the harvest. That cost will rise from three-to-five per cent each month, and they’ll still owe the financial institution 1.5-to-2.5 per cent.
AgriBee’s answer to that is to provide digital payment solutions, so that farmers avoid handling cash and potentially misusing it.
The second is the pre-harvest, or cultivation stage. We support farmers with access to higher-quality, certified agri-inputs at lower prices at the 350 BeeShops available through our app.
We’ve been working with a US-based crop insurance company since 2020, and will team up with Forte for 2022, to protect farmers from natural disasters and secure their MFI loans. For example, if their crops are impacted by floods or droughts, then their insurance would cover the damage.
Farmers also have access to agricultural technical advice from AgriBee’s key players, like agri-input suppliers.
The third is the post-harvest stage – AgriBee provides a ready market for farmers. They can sign a fixed-price contract farming agreement prior to cultivation, or just sell to crop traders through BeeApp at market price. Loans would be settled on the app once they sell their crops and receive payments from the dealer.
How do we improve access to finance for agriculture, and where does AgriBee fit in?
Agriculture is seen as a high-risk industry. Not only do farmers struggle to get access to finance, but so do all other actors, including rice millers, agri-input suppliers and agricultural cooperatives.
To potentially boost their credit ratings, BeeApp does not provide free access to cash – or easily-convertible assets – to our clients that is not profit.
AgriBee is slowly introducing a new financing model to financial institution, to have them know their clients better – incorporating KYC and creditworthiness protocols – through the app, where clients in turn have access to finance from their preferred institutions, which could minimise misuse.
Optimistically, we’re seeing very good trends. We’ve got state-owned financial institutions as policy owners, such as Small and Medium Enterprise Bank of Cambodia Plc (SME Bank), Agricultural and Rural Development Bank of Cambodia (ARDB) and Credit Guarantee Corporation of Cambodia Plc (CGCC).
And in last five years, disbursements for agriculture have increased significantly. And AgriBee could very well provide a tremendous boost to agricultural finance.
What’s been holding back investment in the Kingdom’s agro-processing industry, despite the apparent huge potential?
We’ve heard quite a few general concerns from the experts concerning fields such as funding and infrastructure – including logistics, irrigation systems, drying and storage, and processing.
However, from AgriBee’s point of view, most challenges are a consequence of the disconnection between agricultural sector actors.
Farmer aren’t able to conveniently access finance, and financial institutions won’t fund their clients due to a lack of creditworthiness data, among other reasons.
AgriBee is an end-to-end agricultural value chain management platform, and a payment platform for agricultural value chains.
What are AgriBee’s plans for 2022?
AgriBee’s vision is to support sustainable rice production, and we’ll join in government efforts to achieve one million tonnes in annual milled-rice exports.
We plan to involve 100,000 farmers, 3,000 BeeShops, 300 BeeDepos, 100 rice millers, 100 crop traders, 20 agri-input suppliers, 10 rice traders, and at least 10 financial institutions in the AgriBee value chain ecosystem.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.