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Planting with water, minus the soil

Paweena Man, owner of Kannika Farm, checks plant growth at the hydroponic farm in Kandal province
Paweena Man, owner of Kannika Farm, checks plant growth at the hydroponic farm in Kandal province. MAK LAWRENCE LI

Planting with water, minus the soil

IN the town of Takhmao about 11 kilometres south of Phnom Penh in Kandal province, the owner of Kannika Farm grows plants without soil.
Down a narrow alleyway off the side of a villa, heads of vegetables poke out of blue pipes filled with a mixture of water and mineral nutrient solutions.
Using hydroponics, a planting method not in widspread use in Cambodia, Paweena Man watches more than thirty varieties of veggies sprout up, ready for removal and sale.
Man, introducing herself as ‘Ms. Pook’, said she started the small business three to four months ago.
“This is really just my hobby, I would say it is a ‘hobby that produces money’,” said the 45-year-old mother of two, who also works as an administrative office assistant for a trading company in Phnom Penh.
She learned the method during a trip to a hydroponics farm in Thailand two years ago.
Her system is constructed of industrial PVC pipes, punctured, like a toy flute, with small holes set uniform distance apart. First, she places thumb-sized sponges carrying sprouted plant seeds into the holes. Then, she waits.
Water diluted with specific nutrients and fertilisers helps to foster growth, while an immersed pump connected to a power source cycles water through the pipes.
The supply is emptied after and placed in a large plastic box after several circuits lasting three to five days.
When she first encountered hydroponics, she was intrigued by the lack of insects, pesticides and intensive labour required.
“I bought the full kit from the firm, and continued to research about hydroponics on the internet.”
Learning the method over two years, she decided to test it on the market, selling hydroponics systems and vegetables from her farm.
“I had never run my own business before, and I still have a job,” she said. “The whole thing is crazy to me, but if I don’t try, I think I will regret it.”
Earlier this year, she opened Kannika Farm with an investment of $3,000; since then, she says she’s broken even.
“Our shop sells a variety of products, and I would say the hydroponics planting systems are the most profitable,” Man said.
A system holding 90 plants with free installation goes for $500.
The whole package comes with a water pump, nutrients, planting pot, sponges and enough seeds for two cycles. Smaller set-ups can sell for $50.
Man said there are usually three to four orders for a large system every month.
Most of her clientele are foreigners and “higher-income” Cambodians from Phnom Penh and Battambang.
“I just sold a large package to a wealthy family. The couple bought it for their parents. Older people love to garden and I guess hydroponics is easy and comfortable for them,” she said.
To market and advertise, Man takes to Facebook, where she posts pictures of ready-to-eat veggies fresh out of the pipes.
On Saturdays and Sundays she offers classes on hydroponics at her farm. Students get in free. Man says she wants to share the trade with anyone who wants to learn, whether for business or pleasure.
“I am happy to teach them what I know. I would like to promote hydroponics to the people in Cambodia,” she said.
For now she doesn’t have dreams of expansion, or of opening up other chain stores in Cambodia.
“I still see my operation as a past-time, rather than a trade or my full time job. I enjoy doing all these because I love it,” Man said. “I am happy with my current situation and I don’t know if I can handle the business if it grows bigger.”


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