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Vegetable king helps fight poverty with EU funds

Vegetable king helps fight poverty with EU funds

veget.jpg
veget.jpg

A unique EU-funded project designed to train farmers, develop organic methods of

agriculture, set up a co-operative and establish a distribution and marketing network

for agricultural products was launched on August 1 in Kampong Speu.

Michel Marty

The Asia Urban Project (Asia Urbs) aims to improve the living standards of poor farmers

on the outskirts of Kampong Speu city, 50km outside Phnom Penh

It's immediate success lies in developing a high quality product that is organic-grown

without the use of chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides-that can supply Phnom Penh's

five-star vegetable market comprised of large hotels, restaurants and supermarkets.

"If I go to the Royale Hotel with my product they will let me in but for a Khmer

farmer the door is not open. That is why we need this program," said Michel

Marty, Phnom Penh's "vegetable king" and now co-ordinator of the project.

His company, M&M's Products Co. Ltd, has over the past five years been the only

local supplier of organic vegetables in the country from its Kampong Speu farm.

Asia Urbs is envisaged as a two year partnership administered by the cities of Kampong

Speu, Gembloux in Belgium and Epinal in France, as well as the Belgian NGO, Aid and

Development Gembloux (ADG) and a Cambodian NGO, Cambodian Women for Peace and Development

(CWPD).

"Our vision is to alleviate poverty and we want to promote women's interests.

The project promotes the livelihood of farmers. In rural areas, women play the key

role of farmers. Why? Because they are always at home," said Chou Bun Eng, executive

director of CWPD. "Kampong Speu is one of the poorest provinces and they have

no techniques to promote their products. It is the right time to start."

Technical expertise and technology transfer will come from CIRAD, a French Research

and Development Centre which specializes in tropical and subtropical agronomy and

the Agronomy Faculty of Gembloux University.

Sixty-five percent of the funding required, around half a million dollars, has been

provided by the European Union. The remainder has come from the partners. Land to

build the co-operative was donated by the Kampong Speu provincial government.

"We have the luck to be on virgin land. Let's start clean, growing organically

from the beginning. In ten years, when demand for organic products grows we will

be ready to export, " said Marty, whose connection to CIRAD stems from a chance

meeting with officials at a Parisian trade fair in 1996. A relationship was struck

and seed research was carried out at his farm on the banks of the Preak Knot River

which now, along with a pilot farm that Marty has established, is being used as the

project's training base for local farmers.

"As well as farming we need to focus on marketing and distribution ...otherwise

it can't work. This is the reason why farmers have so many problems. They have to

market the goods but they don't have the knowledge to do that," he said.

The involvement of an internationally recognised French government agency like CIRAD

means that the product's source is traceable and an international standard of quality

guarantied. The project's partners hope this will open up the markets of Taiwan,

Singapore and Japan, countries that reject some Vietnamese and Thai agricultural

exports because of their chemical intensive farming methods.

Many of the farmers that work the land in Kampong Speu and that are involved with

the project are former Khmer Rouge fighters.

The dam on the Preak Knot River that provides irrigation to the area, built by Japan

and Australia between 1970 and 1974, is still partially collapsed after the Khmer

Rouge tried to destroy it.

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