Fresh locally-grown seasonal produce cultivated in an eco-friendly fashion may be available for purchase at a small-scale farmers market later this year, thanks to Agrisud International and farmers from eight villages in Pouk and Krabei Real communes.
French NGO Agrisud first started working with local farmers around Siem Reap in 2011, having already worked in some of Cambodia’s poorest provinces since 1995. The aim, project coordinator Julie Logel says, is to support small, agricultural enterprises to help them increase their income and living conditions.
“Our approach is to help them develop production that answers a demand on the local market, so it’s an economic development approach,” says Logel. “The objective is to increase the diversification of agriculture around Siem Reap. We’ve been working with 320 families, and we support vegetable growing and pig and chicken raising.”
Although the vegetables are not produced organically, farmers are encouraged to follow the ‘agro-ecological’ method.
“It’s a kind of eco-friendly agriculture that tries to respect the balance between the natural resources – water and soil,” explains Logel. “We do not say it’s organic but we try to avoid the use of pesticides and chemicals as much as possible.”
But if farmers have an insect infestation, and pesticide is the only option, it is allowed as long as farmers respect the doses, Logel says.
Agrisud also encourages farmers to grow a range of crops, following supply and demand. More than 30 different kinds of local vegetables are now cultivated, from cucumbers to yard-long beans, to seasonal items such as pumpkins, tomatoes and green melon.
“Before, they were already growing vegetables in the villages,” says Logel. “But they were not really aware of the market, so we try to inform them what produce the market needs. We also try to inform them about price, because the price changes every day in the market. So if they diversify their crop, they can balance the income from the different crops.”
A little over a year ago Agrisud implemented a pilot scheme with Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort, with the five-star hotel buying all its veg direct from the farmers.
“We have a group of ten farmers and one collector who is also a producer in the village,” says Logel. “They meet every two weeks and make a list of what is available in the village and they set up the prices. Then we send a list to Sofitel and it places an order. This is a simple way we have found to make it both fair for the Sofitel and fair for the farmer.”
Logel says Agrisud was able to look at what Sofitel needed and adjust production accordingly. “The farmers used to grow the same two or three crops all the time, and when we linked them with Sofitel we analysed their demands and what we know the farmers can produce,” says Logel. “It’s been really a good experience for the farmers. They’ve increased their faith in themselves.”
Hotel general manager Fabrice Ducry has also been delighted with the results.
He says, “We are very proud that farmers with the support of Agrisud are able to deliver up to 16 different types of crops a month. Sofitel purchases about 60 per cent of their production, representing in the past two months alone more than 2.5 tons of vegetables. “I truly hope the success of this project will inspire others to promote the development of the region, not only through direct tourism, but encouraging people to find jobs in agriculture, and ultimately helping maintain the magical countryside that Cambodia is famous for.”
Now more businesses are eager to sign up – Sala Bai hotel and restaurant school and Rosy Guesthouse recently joining the list of customers.
Rosy co-owner Rachel Band says, ““Our kitchen staff have been very happy with the standard of fresh produce delivered to us each day, as well as the organisation of the farmers to process orders and produce invoices autonomously.
“The communication of bimonthly prices and new products is prompt, clear and makes things very easy for our purchasing staff. We found that the prices matched or were lower than prices charged at the local markets, for a better quality product.”
And now Agrisud is creating a buzz among expats, with some suggesting that a weekly delivery box system be set up. Although not quite ready for this, Logel says she is keen to pursue the idea of a weekly mini farmers’ market.
“We want to start slowly so that farmers can adapt step by step, because we want them to be totally autonomous,” she says.
“So if we work with the expats, maybe the idea is to have a place near Pub St where farmers can come and sell twice a week.”
Logel is hoping to start the ‘farmers market’ in late summer, and is researching venues.