Many Cambodians migrate to work abroad, with dreams of returning home with the capital to rent office space and start a business, open a restaurant or even launch a handicraft business. Indifferent to those options, when he returned from working in South Korea, Yem Rom began raising buffaloes.

The 27-year-old said he was the youngest of seven siblings. Born into a rural farming family in Sambor commune’s O’Pour village of Takeo province’s Traing district, he left his homeland to work in South Korea in 2016.

Rom said when he first arrived, he was employed repairing containers, but was able to find another job in a car repair workshop, with a higher salary. In 2018-2019, he sent his savings home to his parents, with instructions to buy 18 mixed gender buffaloes. By 2020, thanks to successful breeding – and a few additional purchases – he was the proud owner of a herd of 60.

“I have dreamt of raising buffalo for a long time, since long before I went to work in Korea. I give thanks for having the good fortune to achieve my dream. I am also pleased to able to play a part in conserving Khmer buffalo, as we don’t see so many of them around nowadays,” he added.

Rom said that he worked in the car garage in Korea for two years and ten months, until his contract expired. He returned to the Kingdom in April last year, to find that his herd had grown to almost 100 head of cattle, and that they needed more food than he could grow.

This led to the purchase of more than 4ha of land in his home village to grow grass to feed his livestock, but fenced off approximately 450sq m to build stables to raise his buffalo.

He has invested about $100,000, but says he earns more than he would if he used the land to grow rice, and added that the buffalo were a lot less labour intensive.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, one buffalo sold for around six million riel, he said, although the market price had dropped to around five million. He was unsure what had caused the decrease.

Generally, his customers bought buffalo to resell in Vietnam, or to butcher and sell in the market. His herd has grown to over 100 animals now, and his farm is becoming well known.

According to Rom, raising the large animals is not difficult. His 4ha of grassland is almost enough to feed the entire herd, although he sometimes buys straw from farmers who have harvested rice. He generally paid around 5,000 riel for a 15kg roll of straw.

In addition, he is able to sell dried buffalo dung for 15,000 to 20,000 riel per bag of about 25kg. Fresh dung was worth even more, he added.

Every morning, he feeds his cattle and then releases them to graze in the field all afternoon. When they return to their stables at night, he feeds them again to fatten them up so they fetch the best possible prices.

His herd is currently made up of 50 calves and more than 50 adults, and Rom estimates that he earns between $700 and $1,000 per month from his business. The herd produces around 30 calves a year and he sells about 20 of them. One and a half years ago, an 18 month old calf could fetch six or seven hundred dollars, but now, the market rate is closer to five hundred.

“In the future, I will expand my farm if possible. I think raising buffaloes gives me much better revenue than planting rice fields,” he said.

O’ Por village chief Bunry told The Post that with so many buffaloes in the village, some of the ponds and streams were getting dirty. He said the villagers haven’t started to complain yet though.

“During the farming season, Rom lets his buffaloes eat in the rice field after people have harvested their rice, and also has had two tractors for harvesting straw for his buffaloes to eat,” she said.

According to Bunry, the buffalo breeder is looking for a place to move his herd to, as he is aware that such a large group of buffalo can be disruptive. Somewhere with more open space would be ideal for the comfort of the animals, too, he added.

Regarding the use of buffaloes for farming, Sambor commune chief Chi Chim said farmers in his commune no longer used cattle. They use machinery, as it is faster and cheaper.

“Nobody uses animals to plow fields anymore, as they are too expensive. Walking tractors – sometimes called mechanical buffalos – are much faster, Aside from the O’Por village, I have not seen a buffalo in a while,” he added.