GIZ Cambodia, a branch of Germany’s international development agency, signed an agreement yesterday with local organic food retailer Khmer Organic Cooperative to provide technical support to develop organic vegetable production and to assist the firm in obtaining certification for its products.
The agreement calls for the establishment of two demonstration farms for organic fruits and vegetables that will later be used as a national organic training centre. It also aims to strengthen regional market linkages, establish local organic supply networks and raise consumer awareness.
Market experts say the partnership will benefit Cambodia’s market as demand for organic food products is increasing, but growth has been subdued by the absence of an institution to guarantee that products bearing the organic designation are standardised.
Without this certification, many consumers are unwilling to pay a premium price for products that they are not certain are really all that they claim to be.
Claudius Bredehoft, national project coordinator for GIZ Cambodia, said the agency is prepared to share its expertise on organic agriculture and provide training on proper methods to produce organic crops. He said having an institution guarantee that products meet recognised organic standards is essential to their marketing success.
“Right now, organic certification in Cambodia would be like traffic without police,” he said, adding that only a small portion of the crops in the Kingdom is certified as organic. “Organic production in Cambodia has huge potential, so with assistance to get certification, farmers can add more value to their products.”
GIZ’s technical assistance on organic growing methods and techniques will be applied to produce grown on two farms owned by Khmer Organic Cooperative (KAC). The farms, which cover a total of 23 hectares, currently produce about 300 kilos a day of non-certified organic vegetables for KAC’s store in Phnom Penh.
Ieng Sotheara, KAC’s founder, said that the demonstration farms will eventually be used as a national training centre for Cambodia’s organic farmers.
“Once the project is successful it will serve as a model for farmers who want certification,” he said.
“Certification is important to build the confidence of consumers as it proves that fruits and vegetables are really organic.”
Sotheara added that once he has mastered the methods and techniques to produce certified organic products he will seek an evaluation by Control Union, a global independent inspection and certification firm, to verify that the produce grown on KAC’s farm is organic.
Kry Vongsocheat, business development manager of Control Union (Cambodia), said the evaluation process for organic certification is complicated and there is no guarantee that KAC will receive it.
He said that to date his company has only certified two organic food companies in Cambodia, both rice exporters.
“For vegetables, we’ve never given certification to anyone yet, so if [KAC] receives a certificate it will be the first,” he said.