About us
Sophea Tek, Organic Entrepreneur, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Currently, the organic sector in Cambodia contributes to less than one percent of agricultural production. Some cashew farmers and black pepper growers have been certified as organic as they are exporting their products. But the vast majority of farmers use chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow their crops. The scenario around Phnom Penh is changing as the demand for organic food amongst expats, tourists, hoteliers and even the local Cambodians is increasing.
The increasing demand for organic vegetables in Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh, led Sophea Tek to venture into the organic field in 2009.  Sophea did an MBA from a local university and after a year of market research, he invested $30,000 of his own money and set up the Green Organic Farm in 2009 in Kandal province near Phnom Penh. This 3 hectare farm grew various types of lettuce and herbs .

Organic  Cultivation: In 2012 Sophea shifted his farm operations to  Kampong Speu  province, after persuading local farmers from six villages to join hands with his company. The villages are Angdong Sla village, Anglong thorm village, Tompong village, Krang Spue village, Kahang village and Som Pan Village. About 80 farmers are growing and providing fresh organic produce to Sophea’s company. In effect about 400 people in these six villages have been engaged in this organic production. Sophea and his business partners have invested $ 100,000 in setting up their operations in Kampong Speu province. They hope to recover their capital within three years time if all goes well.

Currently the farmers grow various types of lettuce, greens, herbs, tomatoes, chiles and fruits under open field conditions.  Romaine, Iceberg, Tango, LoLo Rossa, Danyelle Red, Salad Bowl and Blise varieties of lettuce are being grown. These varieties take between four and six weeks from planting to harvesting. Sophea gets his seeds from New Zealand and spends about $ 500 per month on seeds alone. As cultivation is continuous the farmers do not have the time to make their own seed.

Farmers keep between 2-4 cows each and this ensures a regular supply of cowdung to make cowdung manure. Pest and disease control is strictly through organic methods. Some biopesticides are made by the farmers and some are purchased from the market and given to the farmers by Sophea.

Irrigation is simple. The farmers use hand watering in their small plots.  Where the growing beds are straight,  a water tanker passes between the beds and water is sprayed from the tanker on to the beds by means of a hose pipe.  As there is a big lake near one of the farms, there is ample water for irrigation.

He says it is not easy to grow vegetables organically, and that it is a job requiring determination and focus every day. Sophea hired a trainer to train the farmers in the six villages on how to grow vegetables organically.  The farmers picked up the organic know how within two months’ time from the trainer.

Sophea’s mission is to convince Cambodians that organic produce is much better than produce which has been grown with the help of pesticides. Importers supplying Cambodia's markets bring in vegetables from Vietnam and Thailand that have been grown using pesticides. While these vegetables maybe cheaper than organic produce, it is laden with chemicals and this is reflected in the taste which discerning customers can detect easily. Organic produce tastes so much better and is more flavourful than chemical produce any day.

Marketing: Sophea also employs a staff of 15 people for packing, despatching and delivering the produce to Phnom Penh and for handling the business accounts in the office. The produce is packed in plastic bags and baskets. He has his own delivery trucks. Between 200-400 kg. of fresh  organic produce is supplied to Phnom Penh each day from these six villages. Sophea’s company has an organic certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture which makes it easier for him to market his produce to various hotels, restaurants and supermarkets in Phnom Penh. Cambodian Hotel, Phnom Hotel, Champs Elysees Hotel, Topaz restaurant, Lucky market are some of his clients. Other clients include local markets,  clubs, shops and hotels.

Vision for the future: Some of the larger hotels wanted large quantities of various kinds of lettuce every day and as the produce from the six villages  that Sophea is working with currently is limited, he could not take them on as his clients. Cheap imports from Vietnam and Thailand offer competition to his organic produce. But the classy hotels and restaurants in Phnom Penh seem to have settled for organic produce even though it may cost them a bit more.

Sophea hopes to expand his business, grow more varied produce, work with farmers from all provinces of Cambodia and reach out to more clients in Phnom Penh.  Using very simple methods of organic cultivation, Sophea has been able to achieve  a lot in a short period of time.  Green Organic Farm has come a long way and is sure to go places in the coming years.
E-mail: gofcam@gmail.com