Siem Reap weekend market, where small scale farmers sell organic vegetables and other local products, has been a great success story, according to government officials and the farmers themselves.
Phon Srey Thea, 38, started farming organic vegetables in her village in Tbeng commune in Banteay Srei district, back in 2013. Despite the pandemic, her small business is thriving, and she can earn up to about $7 a day.
She grows a wide variety of vegetables, including luffa gourd, yard long beans, water spinach, curly kale, and choy sum. As well as feeding her healthy produce to her family, she sells about 5 kilograms to a supplier at Siem Reap weekend market.
“It helps me get money to give to my son to spend at school, and it helps me buy basic household goods and to pay my monthly electricity bill,” she said of her earnings.
She said she also sells to local shop owners, and despite the Covid-19 pandemic she continued to grow vegetables and was able to earn a normal income because she could sell her produce in the village, even if the supplier did not go to the weekend market.
Keo Sali, a 50-year-old farmer in Tbeng Lech village, Tbeng commune, told CamboJA that she also started growing organic vegetables in 2013. Siem Reap provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and several NGOs helped train her, she said.
Now, she is also a supplier who buys from other farmers in her village to sell at the weekend market.
At first she said she and other growers couldn’t sell enough, but since the government set up the market in 2018 there’s been no difficulty in selling.
Apart from weekends, she sells her vegetables at the highway market, which is also in Banteay Srei district.
“On Saturday and Sunday, I can sell about 50 kilos of vegetables and make around 150,000 riels ($37),” Sali added.
Unlike Thea however, she had a hard time during the pandemic.
“In the Covid-19 pandemic, it was difficult for me to travel because there were many closures. It was challenging and caused me to lose 600,000 riels,” she said.
Things are better now though, she says with a smile, and she’s selling chickens too.
Phoeun Kimly, director of the Siem Reap Provincial Commerce Department, said that farmers now have 24 stands at the weekend market and come from all over the province. Kimly said paying a stand costs 5,000 Riels every weekend.
“We focus on the safety and quality of the produce,” Kimly said. While the vegetables might not meet the official international standard to be qualified as organic they are chemical-free and natural.
Pen Sovicheat, the spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said weekend markets also take place in 18 other provinces and are mostly run under the Accelerating Inclusive Markets for Smallholders project (AIMS).
He added that his ministry is encouraging people to buy local products such as organic, chemical-free vegetables and free-range chickens and eggs in order to support smallholder farmers.
The total revenue generated by farmers over five years of weekend markets across the 18 provinces came to more than $4 million, he said.
He said the ministry aims to expand the space to attract more tourists and buyers.
“The criteria is the fruit and vegetables for sale must be domestic products, so [sellers] cannot import other items to sell,” Sovicheat added.