Kandal province: Fish have become scarce and Pok Sreang is unable to earn enough to support her family anymore. In 2019, she was forced to quit fishing after many years and started contract farming to earn a stable income.
Sreang, 44, has five children and is a farmer in Saang District, Kandal Province. She is part of a cooperative farming scheme under World Vision’s Micro-Francised Agriculture Service Expanded (MASE2), which is funded by Australia.
The project aims to equip farmers with knowledge on modern agricultural techniques, quality inputs, up-to-date training and market linkages. World Vision says it will improve the economic empowerment of 5,502 male and female farmers in Takeo and Kandal provinces.
Before she became a farmer, Sreang used to depend on fishing, earning between 30,000 and 40,000 riels per day. Unfortunately, fish became increasingly scarce and there was no income left for the family.
“I have turned to growing vegetables because it’s too difficult to find fish recently,” Sreang said. She signed a contract to provide “safe vegetables” to ECO-AGRI Co., Ltd. (EAC) three years ago, turning her mango farm into a vegetable farm after mangos prices plunged to 100 riels per kilogram.
On its website, EAC says it is a socially responsible enterprise, established in 2015 with the purpose of developing sustainable agricultural value chains in Cambodia through improving access to agricultural inputs and markets for farmers.
Growing vegetables on an area of about 15 x 100 meters, she produces a variety of vegetables alternately, including cauliflower, cabbage, Chinese cauliflower and other vegetables according to the needs of the partner company that orders.
Sreang said she now earns a decent income to support the family and can afford sending her children to school, buying basic necessities and not worrying about the lack of rice to eat anymore.
“During Covid-19, I have worried about food for my family, I was afraid there would be no rice to eat,” Sreang said.
She added she could sell more vegetables during the pandemic than any other time and could save up money within three years to buy a tuk-tuk, motorcycle, and save some in a community fund.
She said that it's more convenient that the EAC offers a stable price of products for farmers because in the free market, prices go up and down.
She encouraged more Cambodian farmers to pay attention to growing safe and healthy vegetables. This can increase profits and prevent health risks associated with growing products using a lot of chemicals.
The Mase 2 project helped support farmers by providing not only agricultural equipment such as vegetable shelters, greenhouses, and water pipes, but also guiding villagers, especially women and disabled citizens, to learn about modern techniques used to grow vegetables using natural fertilizer combined with chemical fertilizer in a safe way for both farmers and utilizers.
Meanwhile, improved distribution of quality agri-inputs, finding more market linkages and improving market access, including credit and loans, is also a priority.
Touch Pech has been a community president of Svay Prateal Agriculture in Hope for seven years. She said the community has more female members than males, comprising 220 out of a total of 371 members, with around $30,000 as capital.
“I always want villagers to have better livelihoods, I want them to participate in order to change their previous bad habits to new habits with the purpose of decreasing chemicals that are harmful for general citizens,” Pech said.
“Since we decreased the use of chemicals, we won’t get sick. If we are sick, we have to spend our sources more on treatment, so we can't work and have less income,” she added.
Andreas Zurbrugg, deputy chief of mission at the Australian Embassy in Cambodia, said he sees the impact of this project in assisting poor farmers to build their capacity to better manage their farmers and link up with agricultural cooperatives, as well as linking farmers to better price sources with healthy vegetables for consumers.
“If we can increase the output and quality of products that are produced across Cambodia, this is an important part of the economic growth and recovery of the country as a whole, but also supports the broadest growth of farms abroad based on small farms,” Zurbrugg said.
Zurbrugg said in the future, there will be a new program building on the work that World Vision has done through this project, to continue to help Cambodia reach the next phase of its agricultural productivity.
He believes some of the best agricultural products in the world come from Cambodia and the second phase will improve capacity to process those agricultural products more and increase export to the international market.
“The percentages of the value of agricultural products in Cambodia is relatively small when compared to Asian neighbors. The more we need to do is to leave the margin up so that more of the profit can be kept in Cambodia.”
Leng Vireak, the operation director of World Vision in Cambodia, said the MASE project will finish in June, but will continue to connect with other communities and assist as a consultant to give advice for farmers who are in need.
Additionally, there will be more focus on the agricultural sector for the next five years for the 2023-2027 strategy expansion. The exact areas to develop have not yet been confirmed, Vireak said.