Coming from a struggling second-generation farming family with original roots bound to the business of traditional gemstone mining in Pailin Province, Ouern Samon shares her life journey of transformation, accomplishment and success with us.
Q. Tell us about yourself
Married with two children, I am 33 years old and own a longan farm and trading business in Pailin. Starting with just two hectares of farming land, I now own a 13-hectare longan plantation in my hometown that distributes up to 10 tonnes of fresh longan every week.
I was born into a traditional gemstone mining family. Although my parents were struggling financially when I was growing up, they managed to provide adequately for us during the mining boom. However, it all changed drastically when my father passed away unexpectedly in 1999. And being a widowed single parent, my mother had to shoulder the sole responsibility of supporting a family with two young children.
Years later with the gemstone mining industry in decline, our family’s financial situation deteriorated to the point that on some days my mother was unable to generate any income at all. This prompted her to turn to farming in order to supplement the family’s meagre income derived from mining work as I turned 15. Although my mother’s venture into farming provided our family with an additional source of income, it did very little to make a big difference.
It all improved and changed for the better financially for the family when I got married and started a longan business in 2010.
Q. What inspired you to start the longan business and what were the challenges faced in getting it started?
It all started when longan cultivation became popular throughout the Pailin provincial region about 10 years ago. Despite having no prior experience in growing longan or having any connection to the industry, I saw a great opportunity in the business as a local trader. Being anxious and worried at first about investing years of hard-earned savings in a business I was unfamiliar with, I eventually cast all my doubts aside with the encouragement and support of my husband and started the longan business in 2010.
It was really tough going for us at the beginning. I had to reach out to local farmers, negotiate a fair price and come to a purchase agreement for longan supply in Pailin as soon the trees started blooming while my husband established a distribution network at Phsar Neak Meas in Phnom Penh at the same time.
Furthermore, wholesalers that my husband initially approached were either reluctant to stock our products or demanded to be supplied on consignment basis with better profit margins. And while we did not make much profit at the beginning, we persevered with these bittersweet challenges that taught us invaluable lessons in our business journey.
Over time, we succeeded in building a loyal base of wholesalers that gave us the breakthrough opportunity needed to expand our business further. Having established a stable source of income,I was able to invest in acquiring trucks to lower logistics cost and purchase land to start a plantation of our own with financial assistance from Amret. This has enabled us to fulfill our wholesale orders on a larger scale with supply volume of 10 tonnes or more every week and also to meet additional orders over the festive and wedding seasons.
What we have learned over the years in business is that we have to be prepared for many unforeseen challenges that lie ahead. Challenges that may come in the form of price fluctuations, unstable market demand and even rough road conditions that contribute towards affecting the profitability and bottom line of the business.
Q. As a businesswoman with a family, how do you balance your time while focusing on running a successful business?
Managing an agribusiness is very demanding and often tiring at times. I have to set aside some time for my family while at ensuring I spend sufficient hours to business operational matters.
I have get up at the crack of dawn every day to coordinate groups of labourers – usually two to three groups – and transport them to various plantations within Pailin province. Once this task done, I have to travel back and forth to every plantation to check that the fruit picking process is performed correctly to ensure the fruits harvested fulfil the quality expectations of our wholesale customers and prevent our products from being rejected.
After harvest collection, I have to coordinate the transportation of labourers back to the warehouse while organising food to be prepared in advance for them for the following day. Preparing tasks for the next day ahead of time, allows me to create time for my family.
Running an integrated longan plantation and trading business is truly challenging. With the right planning and commitment, achieving the goals I have set for my business becomes both simple and rewarding. And at the end of the day, the greatest joy for me is seeing the smile of my children as I return home. It gives me the satisfaction and energy to perform my work and get me going every day.
Q. What is the greatest ordeal you have faced since establishing your business?
2020 has been the toughest year for my business. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for longan has been considerably lower in comparison to past years. Social distancing measures practiced throughout the country have restricted festive and wedding celebrations that have contributed to falling sales volume. In addition, declining orders from the international market in the aftermath of the pandemic has also disrupted our business significantly. And this is clearly reflected in the ordering trend of our wholesale customers where orders have become irregular rather than daily as in the past.
Our biggest concern at present, is the recent slump in prices for longan that has been felt by producers throughout the year. This has also been compounded by the obligation of our business to continue purchasing longan harvested from farmers.
To mitigate this crisis, my husband and I have set up a warehouse to process the harvested longans to enable us to keep them fresh for two to three more days while we seek assistance from our network of partners to penetrate into new markets in Thailand.
However, Thai customers are more demanding, their requirement for quality is significantly higher than that of the domestic market, meaning that only a few farms can meet their quality expectations. The quality of products is very important consideration for international markets.
Q. What is your advice to young women who wish to venture into business?
Like any other businesses, to reach success, one must be committed, resilient, and bold enough to make difficult decisions when needed. Looking back 10 years ago when I first started, if it were not for my boldness, decisiveness, and devotion, I would not have achieved what I have today.
My advice to young women out there who dream of venturing into business is to never give up during the rough times. You must be willing to go the extra mile to achieve their goal.You must always love what you do and success will come knocking before you know it. Like the saying goes, if you love what you do, you will succeed in life!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my husband and mother who has always been very supportive of me in every step of the way to assist and guide me through this rewarding journey.
Finally, I wish all the Cambodian business women great success and Samnang La’orin their business venture.