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Building a life from the soil

Building a life from the soil

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One of Bou Vun’s employees at the Sugar Cane Vun Farm in Kandal province transports cut cane from the fields. Bou Vun purchased the 5-hectare farm in 2007, and he says he has plans to double in size and production in the coming year.

Keen on securing a future for himself and his wife, sugarcane farmer Bou Vun put all the money he had into a small plot that is now paying sweet dividends

After a year of marriage and nearly two decades of living with his parents, Bou Vun left home to start his own family and find the means to support them.

He settled on the idea of farming sugarcane. In 2007, he purchased a small agricultural plot in Prek Ampil commune, Sa Ang district, Kandal province, and, with US$25,000 from his personal savings, the young entrepreneur founded Sugar Cane Vun Farm.

"I have no certificate or degree in agriculture for growing sugarcane. I have only the experience of working directly with my father for more than 19 years," he said.

The farm began with just three employees. Now, Bou Vun manages a staff of 12, who earn about $50 to $70 per month, depending on experience.
Covering 5 hectares of land about 50 kilometres outside Phnom Penh, the farm grows two types of sugarcane to satisfy a steady demand among local residents as well as among markets in Phnom Penh, Bou Vun said.

The two varieties, red and yellow, are seasonal, he explained. Red cane grows during the rainy season, and yellow during the dry. The cane seeds come from Cambodian producers, and the farm spends between $1,500 and $2,000 per hectare on seeds.

Production cycles for each variety - from planting to harvest - take between six and eight months, Bou Vun said.

Once harvested, Bou Vun's sugarcane is sold to clients mostly in the capital, in numerous bazaars including the Russian Market and Kandal Market.

"In the rainy season, we can sell sugarcane for between 7,000 riels and 8,000 riels per bunch. But in the dry season, prices go up to between 10,000 riels and 12,000 riels," he said.

The life of a sugarcane farmer is not an easy one, Bou Vun said. It requires a determined focus every day.

"We work under a hot sun and in heavy rains. If you want to do this type of work, you must be prepared to work hard every day and pay attention to the smallest details," he said.

The farm's profitability fluctuates, Bou Vun said, who earns on average $3,500 to $5,000 per hectare each year.
"I am hoping to double this when I expand my business to 10 hectares in the coming year," he said.

Bou Vun says it is the steady demand for sugar cane, as well as the opportunity to produce something locally grown, that pushes him to expand.

"I want Cambodian people to use Khmer products, grown and made by Khmer people, just as I do with my sugar cane," he said. "Cambodians must support Khmer products instead of using those from neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, which are often grown by using chemical fertilisers." he said.

Bou Vun acknowledges that his business lacks the sophistication, marketing and technical innovation of others.
"My business still lacks some things, but I constantly look for ways to improve quality and to find new markets," he said.

Sugar Cane Vun Farm currently produces up to 200 bunches of sugar cane each day, but Bou Vun would like to see this number reach 1,000 bunches daily.

He has called on the government and NGOs to support local agricultural producers by implementing educational programmes to improve farming techniques.

Most importantly for Bou Vun, however, are improvements to rural irrigation systems that would prevent sugarcane farms from flooding.
But expansion requires capital, and in order to move forward, Bou Vun says he will need a bank loan. He worries, however, that current interest rates are too high.

"I just want a chance to borrow money to improve my business in the future," he said.

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