Once considered an industrial crop for large-scale businesses, rubber is now seen as a profitable alternative for smaller-scale producers. Meak Phany’s success with her rubber plantation investment and business has led to a wave of smallholder farmers in Preaek Prasab, Kratie, following in her footsteps.
Q: What inspired you to venture into the rubber farming business?
Having grown up in a family of farmers, I have always aspired to create something of my own - a sustainable business that forges a new way of life for my family and paves the way for a future business venture. This was when the idea of having a rubber plantation popped up.
In the beginning, I only owned some hectares of cassava farmland inherited from my parents. Although it regularly produced good yields, cassava farming proved to be an unreliable source of income, given the low and fluctuating market price at the time.
Encouraged by rubber’s high market price and the possibility to have a sustainable, long-term income, I decided to venture into rubber farming in 2014. With that in mind, I sought out financial assistance from Amret MFI to prepare the land and grow 8,500 rubber plants on my 15-hectare plantation in Prek Prosob, Kratie.
Q: Can you describe the process of growing rubber plants?
Like every other crop, the cultivation process begins with land preparation. After the plants grow, there is a need for manuring and fertilisation, which is completed twice annually. Next is the weed control which is done in regular two-week intervals. The whole process is repeated every year until the sixth year.
By then, the plants are mature enough to produce latex. To harvest the latex, my husband and I head to our plantation at 7 PM. First, we carefully scrape the bark of each tree, and then use plastic cups to gather the white liquid latex as it flows. We leave the latex there and come back the next morning to freeze the liquid with chemicals - converting it into solid sheets of rubber. Twice per week, my husband delivers the rubber sheets directly to both local and international dealers. We managed to supply over 52 tonnes of natural rubber in 2020.
Q: How did you manage to support your rubber plantation during the growing process?
Finding the funds to support the rubber farm was a real struggle. The initial investment in itself was already huge. And then you had to regularly spend on fertilisers, manure, and pesticides during the growing process, which continue to build as the plants grow. The investment return comes after six years. Therefore, without a reliable source of income and effective cash flow management, it is impossible to survive in this business.
What I did was to implement inter-cropping practice by cultivating soybeans, watermelons, and cassava simultaneously on the same farm - in between the young rubber plants. These provided the necessary funds to finance my rubber plantation.
Q: What are your short-term plans?
As my distribution network grows with each passing year, my next plan is to build a warehouse to stock the rubber and purchase a new truck to ensure the timely delivery of the products for both local and international markets.
Q: How do you contribute to your community as a woman entrepreneur?
I believe I have contributed positively to my community with my current business from providing employment to rubber tappers to supporting the community economically. I have acted as a consultant to farmers who wish to venture into the rubber farming business by guiding them through the whole processes of farming - from land preparation to scraping the latex. Aside from that, I have supplied them with affordable rubber crops and fertilisers to help them start their farm. This season alone, I have received orders of over 20,000 rubber crops from the local farmers. I guess this is my small little way of contributing and doing good to the community.