More than two decades ago, Chheav Hong toiled on a modest plot of land, cultivating just over one hectare. Today, the landscape has transformed as HONG ECOFARM and spans more than nine hectares, showcasing a resilient and diverse farming system.

Despite the arid, red soil indicative of dry seasons, Hong’s farm stays lush and green, drawing farmers from various provinces to witness his success.

Speaking to The Post, the 66-year-old residing in Samrong village, Samrong commune, Sotr Nikum district of Siem Reap province, originally lived as typical farmers, concentrating solely on rice cultivation. However, driven by a passion for growing crops, he expanded into vegetable farming on unused land.

Recalling his farming journey that commenced in 2000, he confesses to initially following conventional practices, lacking knowledge, taking risks and investing substantial energy and capital. Despite the effort, his yields were disappointingly low. Engrossed in traditional farming for over a decade, he didn’t seek agricultural technical skills from any institution.

In 2012, with the availability of short training courses on organic farming techniques through the government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, he enrolled in all of them. Armed with newfound knowledge, he transitioned gradually from traditional, low yield methods to a modern farming system. By 2016, he ventured into successfully cultivating organic vegetables.

“Before, we relied on traditional methods without specific techniques, resulting in poor yields. Yet, after receiving training from agricultural officials, I sought to understand cultivation techniques, resulting in noticeable progress,” he shares.

Hong shares that by embracing technical methods, he consistently achieves favourable yields annually. This triumph allows him to accumulate capital, resulting in the expansion of his farmland from just over one hectare to nine hectares. 

Across this extensive area, he engages in mixed crop farming on six hectares, including the establishment of ponds for raising ray-finned fish and red Tilapia. The remaining three hectares are dedicated to cultivating Cambodia’s renowned “Phkar Romduol” rice.

Seasonal cultivation

In building this diverse system, he erected nine net houses, each spanning 46 meters in length and 25 meters in width, at an estimated cost of $30,000 per net house. Among his regular crops are cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and assorted fruit. Additionally, he cultivates lettuce, curly cabbage, kale and mustard greens, although these are grown seasonally. 

In December, when curly cabbage and mustard greens prices decrease, he transitions to growing lettuce for international consumers, as it commands a higher price.

He shares that concerns about finding buyers for his vegetables don’t trouble him, given his routine sales to wholesale buyers. The pricing structure for his produce is clear: lettuce is marked at 6,000 riel ($1.50) per kilogram, kale at 4,000 riel per kilogram and curly cabbage varies between 2,000 to 2,500 riel per kilogram. Cherry tomatoes, priced at $3.5 per kilogram, maintain a stable market value. 

The period from planting to harvesting spans 75 days, and the high demand for his tomatoes among wholesale buyers in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh’s markets and supermarkets is consistent.

Hong reveals that he annually produces 12 tonnes of rice and supplements this with rice bought from farmers in his community. Combining the rice he cultivates with the purchased rice results in around 30 tonnes per season. Following this, he mills the combined harvest into milled rice for sale. 

Farming praise

Recognising his farming success, the Siem Reap provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, alongside the Ministry of Agriculture, regularly commends the productivity of his farm.

Almost every week, farmers from various provinces make a pilgrimage to his farm, and men and women from 26 different countries engaged in USAID projects also frequent his agricultural haven.

Tea Kim Soth, Siem Reap’s agriculture department director, praises Hong as a genuine and exemplary farmer, especially in diversified farming.

The department regularly shares cultivation techniques with him, ensuring his vegetables are grown within net houses without pesticides. He relies mostly on self-produced compost.

“His farm captivates not only local farmers but also intrigues foreigners, government officials, lawmakers and agriculture ministry representatives,” Kim Soth mentions.

Khim Finan, the ministry’s spokesperson, says that each province currently boasts several model farmers. The ministry tirelessly promotes modern agricultural techniques, drawing from both its research and successful experiences across the country.

He notes the ministry’s core principle: transitioning from family farming to industrial farming by nurturing large-scale communities known as modern farming communities. In the context of vegetable cultivation, the ministry encourages larger communities with cooperative production and shared management to cut costs and ensure a sustainable supply—a top priority for the ministry.

“For farmers who feel they lack technical expertise, the ministry opens a gateway, allowing farmers nationwide to join communities fostering large-scale production of quality goods at competitive prices, meeting market demands,” Finan says.

Hong has a vision for his farming that goes beyond the mere production of agricultural goods.

“In the future, my goal is to establish agro-tourism by offering guests temporary accommodations with cooking facilities. This farm boasts a picturesque green landscape throughout all seasons,” he shares.