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   Organic and home-grown in Cambodia

Cambodia is an agricultural nation and a staggering 80 percent of the populations are farmers.However surprisingly, most of the vegetables the country consume are imported from neighboring countries principally from Vietnam and Thailand farmers and distributors are attempting to change this trend , ensuring Cambodians use home-grown,Pesticide-free produce.

Hotel food purchasers in Phnom Penh admit not all the vegetable their hotel use are 100 per cent grown in Cambodia .purchase manager at Raffles hotel Le Royal Mr. Nam Samnang says most of the vegetable like iceberg lettuce or asparagus.
‘‘Thirty per cent of vegetables are imported from Australia, Singapore and some cooler countries,’’ he says.
Mr. Samnang says during the low season raffles Hotel Le Royal uses approximately 50 to 70Kg of vegetable a day and even more during the high season.

Senior purchase officer at the Sun way hotel Ms. Sorn Hung agrees. He says the hotel’s restaurant, like that of Raffles hotel Le Royals, uses both imported and local products.
Both purchasers agree that the vegetable the hotel buy within Cambodia do not Come directly from local farmers. Most are bought from a distributor and so there is often confusion as to the origin of the vegetables.

‘I think that some of them are really imported from Vietnam or Thailand because our local vegetables may not be in season,’’Ms Hung says. She says if the hotel needs some of tomatoes, for in Cambodia-the distributor will import them from Vietnam.

It is difficult to estimate how many kilograms of Phnom Penh needs daily. A leading distributor in Chbar Ampov market Mr. Leang Ton says, the amount of vegetables required everyday at the market is no less than 1000kg.
Mr. Ton, who also distributes vegetables throughout greater Phnom Penh, says he sells many different kinds of vegetables, most of which he receives from an exporter in Vietnam. He says the vegetables are imported because Cambodian farmers cannot support the demand. ‘‘As a local seller I want to sell local products that I buy from farmers, but we cannot rely on them because they cannot provide their produce to us regularly,’’ he says.

Most Cambodian provinces are able to produce vegetables. However, the largest vegetable produces are Kandal, and Kampong Cham province (particularly the area closer to Phnom Penh) and Kampong Speu province. In Chbar Mon and Samrong Tong district the Peri-Urban agricultural Center, an NGO, has been set up to develop and promote safe methods of farming. Mr. Jean-Francois Michel is advisor at the Peri-Urban Center and at the Khmer Farmer Garden (KFG) of Cambodian Women for Peace and Development canter, which is run bye the local community. Mr. Michel says the KFG help contribute to the alleviation of poverty for Cambodian farmers. It also promotes the growth of pesticide-free vegetables.

Khmer Farmer Garden is testing and growing 37 types of organic vegetables. The project provides seeds to 67 farmers, each of them cultivating at least two hectares of land. The farmers produce approximately 1200Kg of vegetables a month, 300Kg of which are sold in Phnom Penh market each week. However, Khmer Farmer Garden alone cannot produce enough vegetables to supply all the market and restaurants in Phnom Penh. Mr. Michel says that is why Cambodia still imports from Vietnam and Thailand.

“We want to promote pesticide-free vegetable throughout the county, but we need time. Everything has to be done step bye step. Now we produce about 1200Kg per month and bye 2005 we expect to expand this to 1800Kg per month. I hope it will expand ever few years,” Mr. Michel says.
The Centre d'Etude et de Development Agricole (CEDAC) is another NGO offering agricultural support services to the rural poor. The center also offers education and advice on alternative peat controls in Kandal province and other provinces along the Tonle Sap.

Executive director at CEDAC Dr. Yang Saing Koma says supporting local produce. Dr. Koma says some of the difficulty lies in getting farmers to learn from one another. He says farmers need to learn about a vegetable before they grow it. They also need to work in teams to understand them calculate how much of their vegetable will be required at markets. Ms. Srey Mom is a 23 –year-old farmer in the Samrong Torng district working under the Khmer Farmer Garden scheme. She says now that she understands the potential of her land, and how to grow organic and high quality vegetables, her life-and her family's- has improved. Ms Mom is optimistic these days. She says she has a contract with the KFG and so sells some vegetables back to the market in Kampong Speu.

With the variety of vegetables grown on her two hectares of land she says she can feed the eight people in her family. “I grow more than ten kind of organic vegetables and they provide me regularly with about US$10 ever day,” Ms Mom says. Mr. Morn Sokhorn, 35, a farmer in Chbar Mon also working under the scheme says people used to complain their products were expensive. He says now, because they grow vegetables whit no chemicals, people recognize the quality of the produce.
“Then the customer started to welcome our product without complaint,” Mr. Sokhorn says.

Source from Cambodian Scene, Sept - Oct / 2004

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