By Tom Post
They say to start a business, you have to crawl before you walk. And walk before you run. In Cambodia, farmers are partnering with World Renew to take the early steps of their own business journey: from growing enough to feed their families, to growing and selling for the market.
Here at the beginning of a new economic story for Cambodia, farmers and World Renew are discerning how to make markets work for the rural poor. We’re walking a business plan out together, with people like Miss Lily taking the lead.
Lily and her neighbors work with World Renew to gain the skills and resources needed to grow a variety of crops to sell throughout the year, specifically through Cambodia’s dry season. With her understanding of the market, Lily, a wife and mother, knows her people fear the imported Vietnamese vegetables that are grown with too many pesticides, and she and her neighbors are cultivating produce pesticide-free, using botanical insecticides from things like garlic and neem tree leaves. They’re also learning from World Renew how to replenish the soil in their region: enriching it through compost and natural farming techniques. Thanks to World Renew’s development support, Lily and her neighbors can weather Cambodia’s increasingly erratic rains, storing water in ponds during the rainy season and utilizing pumps and irrigation hoses for watering during the dry season.
Three years into this business journey, Lily is one of seventy-two local farmers growing vegetables for sale. She’s also one of several farmers imparting her agriculture skills to other subsistence farmers in the area and today, more than half of the farmers trained in a multi-season farming method are women. With irrigation water from ponds often lasting into March, these farmers have extended their growing season an additional three to four months each year. Like any business journey, there are still challenges. Farmers still run out of water in the ponds, and some wells have been contaminated with saline water. Currently, most farmers are selling their vegetables (and sometimes chickens) exclusively in their own villages, and so they have not yet broached the issues of quality, pacing and timeliness that drive larger markets.
Even so, the gains made have been significant. On average, farmers have doubled their incomes from about $400 to $800 per farmer. And looking in Lily’s eyes, we see the gleam of success. Whether it’s crawling or walking, Lily’s business is finding its footing, and thanks to your support, a growing story of hope echoes through Cambodia.