New growth yields new hope
Lors Thmey social enterprise helps smallholder farmers improve the quality, quantity, and diversity of their production.
For years in Cambodia, hope was a rare commodity. Nearly three decades of civil conflict ended in 1999, but the scars of war continue to hinder agricultural development. Landmines still litter large areas of potential farmland, dilapidated rural roads weaken market linkages, and social upheavals have undermined trust between people. Limited irrigation and poor access to agricultural technology and advice are also major challenges for Cambodian farmers. Overcoming these obstacles is critical because agriculture is one of the most important pathways for ending poverty in Cambodia.
Slowly, however, as human connections are reestablished and strengthened, hope is returning. iDE is contributing to this change by supporting a network of Farm Business Advisors (FBAs). Through village meetings and visits with farmers in their fields, FBAs sell products that help their customers grow more and better vegetables and rice. Recruited from the communities where they work, FBAs interact with small-scale farmers as neighbors and help them to deal with the same challenges and issues that the FBAs face on their own plots. FBAs build long-term relationships based on trust and a commitment to their customers’ success. Making a sale is just the first step; FBAs follow up to ensure that their clients are getting more abundant harvests and earning more income.
New hope for a new life
The FBA network is managed by an iDE-established social enterprise called Lors Thmey, meaning “New Growth” in the Khmer language. The enterprise recruits, trains, and provides a range of services to the FBAs including bulk purchasing of products and expert agronomy support. Lors Thmey is buying produce from farmers to sell in bulk to big buyers—guaranteeing farmers a profit on their produce and a means to sustainability for Lors Thmey.
In Cambodia’s Takeo Province, Phlong Sopheap supports a group of 24 farmers in her community. They grow cucumber and wax gourd, and are experimenting with green pepper, tomatoes, and a few other crops. Every day during harvest, each group member brings about 200 kg of produce to a collection point on the grounds of a local school. From here, a collector trucks the vegetables to fulfill pre-orders from several wholesalers in the provincial market. There are three harvest cycles per year, each lasting 25 to 30 days, and each farmer nets at least US$1,000 per cycle. Khit Sean, one of the farmers in the group, says that her husband used to travel for months at a time to do construction work in the city but they were still not able to make ends meet. “We used to have no hope; now we take care of all our needs by growing vegetables right in our village.” And the group has plans for expansion. “There are 217 families in this village,” says Sopheap, “I want to see them all growing vegetables successfully.”
There is plenty of room for Lors Thmey and its network of FBAs to grow. Agriculture in Cambodia is very basic, with some of the lowest vegetable and rice yields in Asia. From this disadvantaged starting point, a little technology and know-how lead to big improvements in a short time. Lors Thmey is successfully addressing this opportunity, providing products and information to more than 4,000 farmers every year, helping them to reduce risks, improve production, and increase incomes. By taking a business approach and treating farmers as valued customers, Lors Thmey is on track to become a sustainable, self-financed enterprise.