Cambodian farmers, traditionally cultivating vegetables in the open field, are progressively shifting towards advanced net housing techniques.

This innovative approach has seen successful implementation in Battambang province where a local farmer, one among a collective of 172, has upgraded to this advanced farming method and currently makes between $500 and $1,000 a month.

A casual observer might mistake the two white-roofed, curved structures for mere housing. Yet upon closer inspection, these structures reveal themselves as technologically advanced mesh houses, the brainchild of Battambang farmer, Som Chantha, created to cultivate vegetables in a more controlled environment.

Chantha, a 53-year-old from Ta Sey village in Ta Meun commune, is the father of four, with a daughter who recently graduated in accounting from university, and a son presently studying civil engineering. The income generated from his farming business significantly aids his children’s university-level education.

“My transition to net housing for vegetable cultivation has significantly increased my income and lowered labour costs, enabling me to support my children’s education”, he explains.

Chantha was previously engaged in traditional rice farming and crop plantation, using open fields which proved challenging due to weather conditions and pests. The switch to net housing cultivation has greatly mitigated these challenges.

After attending training programmes in advanced agricultural techniques with civil society organisations and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in Battambang in 2018, he made the switch and has seen significant success.

Mesh greenhouse cultivation is a distinct contrast to traditional open field farming, where adverse weather and pests often present hurdles.

“With net housing, we can cultivate crops all year round. The pest issue has decreased by up to 80 per cent, with damage rates only around 1 per cent,” Chantha outlines, adding that the two net houses he constructed cost $6,000 and cover 900 square meters.

Chantha plants vegetables alternately every month. Depending on the vegetable type and market conditions, prices can vary, with sales often reaching up to $1,000 per ton. After harvest, his vegetables are sold to the Tasey Samaki Agricultural Cooperative, who distribute them to companies that have signed purchase contracts. This transition to technical farming has notably improved his family’s livelihood.

Speaking about net house cultivation, Nop Nun, president of the Tasey Samaki Agricultural Cooperative, assures the community has a skilled workforce to construct net houses. With 275 net houses across four districts and a total of 172 members, each representing a family, they are witnessing a rapid growth in this method of vegetable cultivation.

Nun assures consumers about the quality and safety of vegetables grown in net houses. Farmers follow technical standards set by the agriculture department, ensuring high-quality produce.

“We want to promote the safety of vegetables grown in net houses, which are good for both the environment and consumer health,” he emphasises.

Technical assistance for net house cultivation has been received from the Royal University of Agriculture and the University of California. The Harvest Cambodia organisation also provides system and drainage installation support, in addition to marketing connections.

The Agronomy Office at the Battambang Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries views net housing as part of the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) programme. The GAP certification aids in vegetable marketing, potentially increasing sales prices.

Khat Borin, director of Agronomy Office, elaborates on the advantages of mesh housing, highlighting how it can withstand various climatic challenges and reduces pest attacks.

“Crops grown in net houses command higher prices, they don’t wither within a day or two like vegetables grown in open fields. This benefits both the growers, who are not exposed to chemical pesticides, and the health of consumers,” Borin said.