Homegrown Fertilizer to Boost Cambodia’s Crops

A sustainable startup is producing natural fertilizer to help the nation’s green-fingered home gardeners and rural farmers increase yields and save the environment.
A farmer walks near rice paddies in Prey Veng province. Picture: Sam
A farmer walks near rice paddies in Prey Veng province. Picture: Sam

A team of researchers has developed a natural fertilizer to tackle pests and diseases, while providing nutrition for city green growers to produce more yields on their rooftops.

The innovative iGreenSYNERGY spray product is a mixture of foliage fertilizer, natural anti-insect and microbial compounds, with induced resistance provided by three essential oils (neem, citrus, and citronella) and natural surfactant.

With the growing use of chemical fertilizers yet a lack of home-grown natural fertilizers, the market-ready product from the iGreen Tech team is set to change that, one spray bottle at a time.

As more city residents shift to grow vegetables or crops at home on a small plot of land or on the rooftops of buildings, iGreen Tech team aim to equip home plant growers with safe, natural fertilizer.

Ouk Chanthin, 28, alongside her research team, Tho Kim Eang and Chuon Srey Em, saw the business opportunity to develop the home-grown product in late-2020.

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iGreenSYNERGY co-founders after winning Dakdam season 2: from left: Chuon Srey Em, Ouk Chanthin and Tho Kim Eang.
iGreenSYNERGY co-founders after winning Dakdam season 2: from left: Chuon Srey Em, Ouk Chanthin and Tho Kim Eang.

A graduate from Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Agriculture, Chanthin and her team started to work on their startup with the hope of boosting local produce for green-fingered, homegrown plant lovers.

She emphasized that iGreen Tech aims to see more local produce grown with natural fertilizer spray that can be applied on farming crops or plants to deter insects, such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and ants, and ensure the crops or vegetable look better and have improved nutrients.

She added the team also noticed when people start to use natural products, it does not harm their health, the environment and the soil.

Since launching the startup, she has had to overcome a raft of challenges. These include the process of producing and standards of mixing ingredients. The limited knowledge of potential customers is another reason. Yet, the team is trying to develop higher-quality products through further research to meet market needs, Chanthin explained.

Cambodia is an agriculture-based country, with 77 percent of the population living in the rural areas and relying on agriculture to support their livelihoods.

By learning how to make and apply natural fertilizers and pesticides, her team believe it can support farmers and city dwellers who love to grow crops or vegetables on their rooftops or small plots of land.

They can apply the pesticide spray on their crops or vegetables with safe and healthy fertilizers. The approach is to increase yields by building crop resilience and improving soil quality. However, convincing Cambodian farmers to cut back on their chemical fertilizers and pesticides can be a challenge.

“If farmers don’t understand the value of a local-made product, they won’t easily accept it.” she said.

Chanthin also pointed out the difference between iGreenSynergy and imported products. iGreenSynery features more natural ingredients with healthy and safe natural fertilizers rather than chemical substances.

“I want to promote the new style of habit for our Cambodian people to rethink the use of natural produce rather than import products from overseas,” she said.

Starting to understand the ingredients, she added, “Since university, we started our research into the value of each ingredient such as oil lemongrass, neem tree’s oil, compost tea, and leaf fertilizer.”

According to A World Vision Cambodia report, “95 percent of consumers are worried about the chemical residues in vegetables, so they start changing behavior to consume safer or Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) products.”

“From the beginning until now, around 1,150 bottles of natural fertilizers from iGreenSynergy have been bought by our customers, mostly by Phnom Penh home city growers,” Chanthin said. However, she continued, “We are aiming to expand more to provinces such as Battambang, Preah Sihanouk, and Siem Reap.”

iGreen Synergy was a recent winner in Dakdam season 2, organized by Impact hub Phnom Penh. A cash prize of $5000 was awarded to continue running their own business and make it accessible for local farmers.

Pich Pisethneat, a Startup Incubation Lead at Impact Hub Phnom Penh, told Kiripost that iGreenSynergy won the $5,000 because of their efforts developing their products and validating them in the market through sales over the past nine months.

He added that with the support of Impact Hub, the team has been very committed to learning, and has managed to expand production capacity as well as triple sales during the program. The team also has strong relationships and collaborate with each other well on top of their diverse background in research, agriculture, and sales.

Ultimately, the decision to offer the fund was because their practical, natural solution on insect spray for home gardens is an answer to the problem of the overuse of chemicals in the agriculture industry, Pisethneat continued.

"I believe that iGreenSynergy will impact Cambodian farmers significantly, starting by increasing income because the team uses natural raw materials from farmers, such as citronella. In the long-term, the product will also help reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and increase the production of organic, healthy gardening and vegetables as well," he said.

A Phnom Penh plant grower who loves to grow vegetables with small plot of land at his home garden, 24-year-old Chhoy Chhunly said he decided to use iGreenSynergy after he scrutinized his plant leaves and found many insects that harm the quality of his plants. So, he decided to check natural fertilizers through the media and discovered iGreenSynergy.

“I found iGreenSynergy, which provides me with natural fertilizers rather than chemicals. It’s reasonably priced, and can last a long time. Until now, I still use it to apply on my vegetable garden,” he said.

Even though he only grows vegetables for daily consumption, Chhunly encourages Cambodian home-city ornament plant lovers to use iGreenSynery to produce quality and healthy food.

Yang Saing Koma, an agriculture expert, told Kiripost there is growing awareness on natural fertilizers, but farmers need to start using them.

“If we can produce better natural or organic fertilizers, it is good for farmers and Cambodia, and good for the soil and reducing imports,” he said.

The World Vision Cambodia report added that “15,728 (9,793 females) farmers were trained on agricultural techniques” under the Micro-franchised Agriculture Service Expanded (MASE2) project plan.