Unbeknownst to most people who work outside of agriculture, some of people’s favourite seasonal produce often have a portion of their harvest leftover and unwanted – including bananas, pineapples, mangos, sapodilla, guava and cashew nuts.
These leftover crops typically go to waste but now due to the initiative of two young Cambodians who are using solar technology – and have just won further funding for their project – they can be processed into nutrient-dense snacks.
Khmer Super Plantfoods social enterprise was among six start-ups chosen for its processing project to support smallholder farmers from a larger pool of 41 teams comprising 109 youths representing 16 nationalities.
Sereysothea Sao and Somalen Sao – the founders of Khmer Super Plantfoods – are the children of farmers and received their higher education in the fields of Agricultural Business from the University of Adelaide and Environmental Science from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, respectively.
“Currently, we are working closely with 10 smallholder farmers in Kandal province and sourcing cashew nuts from a women’s community in Kampong Thom province. We also see the potential to scale out within the communities we are working with as well as with other nearby communities in the near future,” they said in a joint statement.
Each of the six chosen social enterprises received a sum of up to S$20,000 ($14,660 USD) to help them build their businesses.
The winners came after 12 teams were chosen as finalists – comprising 24 young people – gathered virtually to complete the final part of the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) Global 2021 programme.
The Singapore International Foundation is an organisation that has a vision to make friends for a better world and a mission to uplift lives and create greater understanding between Singaporeans and world communities through shared ideas, skills and experiences.
The six winners are AKYAS Sanitation (Jordan), Kanpur Flowercycling Private Ltd (Phool.co) (India), Sojourner Brothers (Singapore), TACT (Thailand), VEMBI (India) and Khmer Super Plantfood (Cambodia).
From deep tech to assistive tech to digital platforms, the teams leveraged technology and innovation to address issues in the areas of inclusivity, sustainability, sanitation, healthcare and education.
Ng Shin Ein, SIF governor and YSE Global 2021 lead judge, noted the growing pool of tech-savvy youths globally who are driven by a keen sense of social purpose to create positive change.
“It is truly an exciting time for social innovation. Technology has created many opportunities for young entrepreneurs to make a difference in a sustainable manner.
“They have developed innovative solutions for pressing social and environmental challenges, with dual bottom lines of profit and impact. The SIF is proud to support these social enterprises in their journey to create greater social impact.” she said.
Sereysothea and Somalen grew up in a farming community and their parents are farmers and that’s the reason why they chose to focus on food processing to help farmers since they’ve experienced, learned and have a deeper understanding of the pressing challenges that farming communities face.
They said that most importantly their invention could have a ripple effect on the living conditions of small farmer households.
“Whenever we visit my parents in our hometown in Kandal province we are constantly reminded of the challenges faced by our community for generations,” said Sereysothea. “This has inspired us to identify the key issues there and the ways we can help to tackle those issues differently.”
She said that nearly 80 per cent of Cambodians live in a rural area and 65 per cent of the rural population relies on agriculture, fishing and forests for their livelihoods.
“We believe that Khmer Super Plantfood is one way we can contribute to making a difference in our community in a sustainable manner,” Sereysothea tells The Post.
Post-harvest loss of produce is a persistent issue for Cambodia’s rural farmers. The majority of Cambodian farmers often lose an average of between 15 to 40 per cent of their crops during and after harvest due to the perishable nature of the crops, inconsistent product quality requirements, oversupply and less commercially value-added activities, according to Sereysothea.
Based on field interviews with 10 small farmers in Kandal province, she says, there are around 3,840 kg of fresh banana loss annually per farmer valued at US$2000. Consequently, this loss of income also creates a great barrier to uplifting small farmers’ livelihoods and funding their children’s educations.
“Through our social enterprise, we hope to not only help mitigate farmers’ post-harvest losses but also increase their incomes by at least one-third every year,” said Sereysothea. “We also hope that this would also uplift the conditions of the next generation in the community – whether as next-gen farmers or by creating new opportunities for higher education.”
Sereysothea said at this stage they are focusing on fruits and nuts as the main ingredients in their super foods are bananas, mangos, pineapples and cashew nuts but they are also working to identify other seasonal crops from nearby communities such as sapodilla and guava.
The six winners were chosen based on the impact and scalability of their business ideas as well as the commitment level of the team members.
Carrie Tan, founder of the social enterprise Daughters Of Tomorrow and a member of parliament in Singapore, attended the virtual award ceremony.
“The work of social entrepreneurs is so important as they pursue new, sustainable ways to address unmet social and environmental needs of their communities. It is heartening to witness the passion, commitment and resilience of these young participants in achieving their social missions,” she said.
Participants also networked with peers of different nationalities, gained deeper cross-cultural understanding, made new friends and forged business connections through online sharing and discussions.
“I am thankful for the support from the organising team, our mentors and fellow participants. I have gained so much knowledge in the past eight months,” said Sereysothea. “It is also encouraging to know that there are other youths around the world who are as determined to make a difference in their communities. This helps me feel less alone on my social entrepreneurial journey.”
YSE Global seeks to inspire, equip and enable youths from different nationalities to start or scale up their social enterprises. This SIF signature programme has in its 12 years nurtured more than 1,300 alumni of 42 nationalities and a global network of 628 social enterprises, according to their press release.
Applications for YSE Global 2022 are now open. Check out their website: https://www.sif.org.sg/en/Our-Work/Good-Business/YSE-Global