As construction work swallows up vast swaths of Phnom Penh's green belt, an informal hay trade is taking off on the outskirts of the capital as farmers find it harder to feed their livestock
A hay seller in Phnom Penh's Tuol Kork district shows off her product in Phnom Penh.
AS grassy areas across the capital are swallowed up by construction sites, the price of cut grass or hay for livestock is rising and the informal hay trade is becoming more lucrative.
"Grass for cows is very difficult to find because what used to be the main grass zone in Phnom Penh is now a construction site for new buildings and factories," said Soun Samol,46, a small-scale farmer from Russey Keo district.
According to Soun Samol, reduced availability of hay has forced many small-scale farmers, who would normally gather their own food for the animals, to rely on hay dealers.
Accordingly, the price of hay per bunch from a dealer - who line street corners on the outskirts of the city - has risen by around 100 riels per bunch since June.
For Soun Samol, this means his daily expenditure on hay to feed his six cows has gone up from 15,000 riels to 25,000 riels (US$3.75 to $6.25) per day.
More hay dealers
Ou Eth, 43, a hay seller, has been selling hay for more than 10 years. Her stall is set up near the corner of Road 271 and National Route 4. In the last year, the number of people selling hay on her corner has doubled to around 10 similar stalls plying their trade.
Hay dealers operate in a grey area. While not technically allowed to set up stalls on the roadside, by paying a series of fines - 5,000 riels a month for the Tuol Kok district police, 500 riels a day to the traffic police, and another 1,000 riels per day to the Trolok Bek village police - the dealers are able to continue.
"I can now make profits between US$20 and $25 per day, as compared to $10 and $15 last year. I can save the money for my daughters' school fees, which total about $1,000 per year," said Ou Eth.
"I will not change this business, even if some people laugh at me," she added.
Chhim Yan, 53, has been selling hay for six months. She said she decided to sell hay after realising that it would not be a difficult business to get into.
With only a small amount of money invested, she was able to set up her business and start making money right away.
"I can make a good profit with this business," Chhim Yan said.
The recent rise in hay prices has kept Chouk Phun, 36, a hay harvester, happy too.
"Five years ago when I was a porter and a construction worker, I earned between 8,000 riels and 15,000 riels per day," Chouk Phun said.
"But now I earn between 20,000 riels and 30,000 riels by cutting grass."