Despite the Kingdom having a very young population, the economy, which depends in part on the agriculture sector, is facing a labour shortage.
Opportunities in neighbouring countries are attracting many who would have otherwise been hired in farming.
Seeking to overcome this challenge with technology, a Cambodian farmer invented a new type of rice planting mechanism dubbed “Eli”.
The tool recently won the celebrated Patents for Humanity award given out by the US government.
The Post’s Hin Pisei sat down with San Bunika, country director of agriculture association Agri-Smart, to talk about his invention.
What is Eli and why did you invent it?
Eli is a rice planter that uses air pressure to shoot the rice seeds into the soil. For flooded rice fields, it can shoot the rice seeds 1cm into the soil and for unflooded rice fields, it can shoot to a depth of 3-4cm.
This process can significantly reduce seed use, down to between 30 and 100kg per ha compared to between 200 and 300kg, which is how much farmers traditionally use.
As a farmer myself, I know what we need. Planting rice by traditional methods uses a lot of rice seeds, labour, pesticides and fertiliser. It is especially difficult to sow seeds when the field is flooded. This is why I worked hard to invent a solution to the problem.
When was Agri-Smart founded?
Agri-Smart was founded in late 2014 as a project under an NGO named Brooklyn Bridge to Cambodia (BB2C), which was founded in 2008 by an American woman, Paula Shirk. BB2C works on humanitarian causes by providing pump wells to people in rural areas of Cambodia.
I started researching the problem in 2014 and in July 2016 Eli was invented. So far we have produced 80 units which have sold out. We are producing 20 more units based on the new orders from various clients.
Eli is named after the main sponsor of BB2C.
Where is Eli sold and how much does it cost per unit?
We have delivered it to 15 different provinces and we hope that Eli will reach all cities and provinces very soon. Additionally, it has been exported to the Philippines and Malaysia for trial use. Nigeria and Chad are also requesting to import the device for trial runs.
Eli is priced at $1,140 per unit, but an Australian NGO called Cavac helps to pay for 30 per cent of each unit. This is part of the Australian government’s directive to help Cambodia’s agricultural sector.
Are there any institutions or companies that have invited you to explain your product?
Because Eli has gotten attention from farmers and investors, we were invited to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and several NGOs asked us to join an exhibition related to rice farming.
I am very proud to promote the product we invented for Cambodia.
In mid-October, I will participate in the fifth International Rice Congress in Singapore. Rice growing countries around the world will be there, and hopefully, hear about how Eli can bolster their rice sectors.
Do you have plans to develop any more farming implements?
I am planning to invent two more pieces of equipment for agriculture work, but I would like to keep them a secret for now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.