Four years ago, the Khmer Organic Cooperative launched two pilot farms producing organic vegetables. Having grown to a staff of 50 and with dreams of expanding the business, it seems that the Kingdom is ready to embrace – or at least notice – the organic revolution. MANAGEMENT INSIDER spoke to operations manager Long Chareya to see how the Khmer Organic Cooperative has cultivated its success.
Tell me about the cooperative…
All our products are chemical-free and organic. We support the farmers, paying them between $5 and $7 a day, and provide them with accommodation. Some farmers come with their family, and they get $150 a month plus accommodation and free vegetables from the farm. We work on projects with World Vision and Oxfam, and we give part of our profits to the community, including funding a primary school for the children of the farmers.
One of our farms is on the road from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, where we offer tours to people wanting to learn about the cooperative. The other is in Koh Kong, and is 86 hectares. Between 200 kg and 300 kg of vegetables are delivered every day to our shop in Chroy Changvar, Phnom Penh. From here we deliver to other outlets, such as wholesale customers. We also sell at Central Market, and we plan to open a new shop near BKK1 at the beginning of this year, which is three times bigger than the Chroy Changvar shop.
How do people buy your produce?
At our shop and we also deliver online: if your order reaches $5 we offer free delivery. We have two kinds of baskets – Western and Khmer baskets, as some foreigners don’t eat Khmer vegetables. We have everything from cherry tomatoes to big tomatoes, green chilli, and bitter gourds. We also sell bitter gourd as a juice – just blended together without water. It’s really good for your health. We also have passion fruit juice. If you get a cold, you don’t need medicine – just try this. Besides vegetables, we sell soap and shampoo. We also sell organic seeds here, so it’s really the whole process from A-Z.
“ WE RECENTLY HIRED THREE MORE TECHNICAL STAFF TO MAKE A PLAN FOR US, AND WE HOPE WE WILL SOON HAVE REGULAR PRODUCE WITH THE QUALITY THAT WE WANT ”
-Long Chareya, Operations Manager, Khmer Organic Cooperative
Are you certified organic?
Now we’re working with a private certification company recognized worldwide, so we can eventually export our products abroad. They have the categories and the guidelines for us, and what kind of documents we need. They’ve already visited our farm, and we’re following their criteria.
Who are the biggest buyers of your vegetables?
Usually individual customers buy to cook at home. Many restaurants and hotels want to buy our products, but they need a regular supply. If they order 10kg of passion fruit a day we need to give it to them, but organic vegetables are really hard to grow. Sometimes we have it and sometimes we don’t. Also, sometimes they don’t look as good as the chemical products, and the hotels have beauty standards. We recently hired three more technical staff to make a plan for us, and we hope we will soon have regular produce with the quality that we want.
Are your customers mostly local or foreigners?
Both: it’s about 50/50.
Is organic a growing trend in Cambodia?
Now many people are starting to know about it. They know organic produce gives you good health, so you don’t need to spend money later when you get sick. The money you spend on your diseases in the future is a lot more than the extra money you spend here.
Interview and photography by Eve Watling