East-West Seed Group, one of the world’s largest vegetable seed companies, has stepped up its presence in Cambodia by officially launching a local branch and taking over distribution operations in the Kingdom to better address local market conditions, a company representative said yesterday.
Heng Rithea, country representative of East-West Seed (EWS) for Cambodia, said the company’s business model was focused on serving the needs of smallholder farmers, the vast majority of whom produce vegetables on plots smaller than a hectare.
“Smallholder farmers can increase the yield and quality of their crops with improved seed varieties,” he said.
EWS began providing seeds to Cambodia in 2005 through a local distributor. In 2009 the Thai-based company expanded to knowledge-transfer activities in cooperation with the government and German development agency GIZ, training farmers in Siem Riep on improved techniques that result in higher productivity. This was followed by other partnerships with the government and development organisations in other parts of the country.
Rithea said a stronger local presence would help improve the company’s understanding of the local market and allow it to develop new seed varieties under local farming conditions to ensure suitability and adaptability for Cambodian farmers.
“We breed for what the market wants,” he said. “We understand the local needs and see what is happening in the market and [in people’s] diets.”
He said innovation was crucial to raising the standards of the agricultural industry, adding that EWS invests around 15 percent of its turnover into research and development.
“This allows us to develop tropical vegetable seeds that help farmers grow better crops,” he said.
Rithea explained that Cambodia’s agricultural industry faces numerous challenges, including a hot, humid climate subject to heavy rains and extreme weather conditions.
“This kind of environment results in high pest and disease pressure,” he said. “Farmers also lack access to technology, basic infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, irrigation and post-harvest facilities and lack of access to credit and finance.”
He said another challenge here was the amount of unregistered seeds that flow into the country from different channels and which, while sold at very competitive prices, are of dubious quality.
“Some farmers who used those seeds without any information or warranty wasted lots of time, money and labour as the seeds did not germinate or provided low yields,” he said.
Cambodian farmers are increasingly turning to specialised companies to provide high-quality seeds for their crops, according to Khan Samban, director of the Industrial Crops Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, who said 21 registered seed companies now supply the local market.
“All the registered seed companies are growing currently on the potential to increase the productivity of farmers,” he said.