In Cambodia, Project Alba helps farmers increase income, protect against seed raiders
September 12, 2012 by Wilson Chua
In parts of rural Cambodia, farmers’ primary source of income comes from harvesting rice — once a year. This is a poor outcome compared to other ASEAN countries which harvest twice or thrice annually.
To help increase farmers’ income, Victor Combal-Weiss and Guillaume Virag founded Project Alba. Project Alba’s socially-minded, sustainable business model works by lowering the risk for farmers to start a second cropping. Farmers get their farm inputs like seeds, fertilizers, and technical knowhow from Project Alba along with a guaranteed buying price for their produce.
In Cambodia, Project Alba has already developed a market for lettuce — an entirely new crop that wasn’t previously produced in Cambodia. It turned out there was a ready market for the vegetable in the increasing number of high end hotels that were sprouting in Cambodia.
So they started a pilot program that recruited a number of lettuce farmers in rural Cambodia. These farmers would plant lettuce to supplement their once-a-year income from rice harvesting. Farmers can earn as much as 250% more when they harvest the lettuce and sell them back to Project Alba.
On paper, this was a win-win business model. The lettuce revenue supplements farmers’ regular once-yearly rice harvesting income and Project Alba makes a profit by selling it to high end hotels in Cambodia that were currently importing lettuce.
The raiders arrive
However, during the pilot program, farmers discovered that while they were dutifully planting the lettuce, a majority of their seeds weren’t sprouting at all. Seeds just went missing. Someone or something was taking the seeds away.
One of these pilot farmers, Hem Yeun (picture right) grew so desperate that she decided to take matters into her own hands.
She resolved to monitor her seed plot to see what was really happening to her lettuce seeds.
She guarded the seed plot the whole day and finally — around the middle of the night and armed with a flashlight — she noticed a trail of ants snaking away from her plot.
Suspecting that the ants were the sneaky culprits that were stealing her seeds, she followed the trail back to the ant’s nest and took it upon herself to dig it up and found the lettuce seeds stored there.
She learned that night that Cambodian ants love lettuce seeds. These ants weren’t eating them right away, but taking them back to their nest. She recovered the seeds and shared her findings with Project Alba.
Project Alba — now armed with this valuable knowledge from Hem Yeun– developed and adopted the seed bed as the counter measure for the Cambodian ants. All its contract farmers now plant lettuce seeds in a raised seed bed platform (picture below). This action resulted in a jump of at least 30% in production.
True Value in Knowledge Sharing
This ‘Raiders of the Lost Seeds’ case highlights the positive outcome from the synergies that come about when local knowledge is combined with foreign technology.
Project Alba wouldn’t have developed the raised seed bed platform without Hem Yeun’s discovery. And other farmers would not be benefitting from this counter measure without Project Alba’s network of field personnel disseminating the information.
Whenever local knowledge (and spirit) is mixed with international best practices, the chances of success increases. The two-way sharing helps to better adapt new methods and technologies to local environments.
Project Alba needs to encourage more of this interaction. It may find it can further maximize its value not only by introducing new methods and creating new markets, but also by developing a knowledge platform where great (farming) ideas can be discovered, captured and shared among their stakeholders.
Top photo: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture
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About The Author
Wilson Chua - Guest Contributing Writer
Wilson L. Chua manages several businesses in Singapore and Philippines providing Call Center services, Data Center Management and IT solutions consultancy. He got the NUS-SCS Gold Medal award for graduating at the top of the batch from NUS Masters in computing. He is a certified Microsoft MCSE+I, MCDBA, MCT, CompTIA security+, Cisco CCNA and CCDA, PMI Project Management Professional and ITIL certified professional.Read other posts by Wilson Chua