Demand for organic vegetables grown in insect-proof greenhouses is booming in local markets.

Unlike field farming, which is limited to the rainy season, these net houses allow farmers to cultivate year-round, thanks to government support and a shift from conventional methods to ones not involving chemical fertilisers.

The Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries is encouraging farmers to form agricultural cooperatives, even providing loans to help them get started. This has led many farmers in provincial communities to turn to net house vegetable production, which enables them to harvest up to 10 times all year round.

Un Oeun, president of the Samaki Trapeang Chak Agriculture Community in Tram Kak commune in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district, says the community is transitioning from family farming to a broader model.

The shift is reflected in their 99 farming members and over 600 net houses, with 90 households dedicated to organic vegetable production.

He tells The Post that the cooperative, founded in 2015, initially had few members and relied on farming methods using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. However, after receiving training from the Takeo provincial agriculture department, farmers acquired new cultivation techniques. The community has since flourished, growing to its current size.

He says that each member of the co-op has at least one net house, with sizes ranging from 10m wide and 30m to 50m in length, depending on individual needs.

The construction costs vary accordingly, with some farmers securing loans from the ministry ranging from $3,000 to $45,000.

Controlled environment

“Before granting loans, credit officers evaluated each farmer’s productivity to prevent misuse of funds. The officers were highly supportive of farming in greenhouses,” Oeun says. 

He says the group receives comprehensive support from the agriculture department, which provides guidance on cultivation techniques, while the Takeo provincial Department of Commerce assists with technical aspects, market access and other support work.

He notes that net houses offer several advantages. Unlike open fields, they shield vegetables from pests, eliminating the need for harmful pesticides and safeguarding farmers’ health. 

Additionally, they offer protection from excessive wind, rain and heat. This controlled environment allows farmers to harvest multiple times a year. Each community member manages their own water source, typically by digging a pond or drilling a well.

Oeun explains that screen house farmers exclusively grow leafy vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower, using only natural fertilisers made from manure, compost and rice husk. 

The community consistently harvests an average of 10 tonnes of vegetables daily, distributed across Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kampot, Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Siem Reap and Takeo. 

However, they face challenges due to fluctuating vegetable prices. This occurs during peak growing seasons when farmers across several provinces cultivate similar crops, leading to an oversupply in the provinces of Kandal, Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Kampot, Ratanakkiri and Kratie.

“Despite a continued market for our produce, the cooperative faces challenges like fluctuating vegetable prices. This month’s price drop, potentially influenced by the import of vegetables from neighbouring countries, has resulted in financial losses for farmers,” he says.

Year-round cultivation

Takeo’s agricultural department director Nheb Sron says that while organic vegetable production exists in specific areas like Bati, Samrong and Prey Kabbas districts, Tram Kak stands out for its extensive use of net houses.

“Our department trains communities in clean farming techniques. Additionally, the Samaki Trapeang Chak Agriculture Community has been recognised for its excellence and has received a certificate of good agricultural practice from the ministry,” he says.

Ministry spokesman Khim Finan tells The Post that growing vegetables in insect-proof greenhouses allow farmers to guarantee higher quality produce and ensure a stable year-round supply, as they can cultivate vegetables throughout the dry and rainy seasons. 

Previously, farmers faced challenges during each cultivation period: dry seasons saw increased animal interference and the need for more inorganic fertilisers, while rainy seasons hampered the growth of certain leafy vegetables. Net houses offer a solution and provide numerous benefits.

“Following its modern agricultural community cluster policy, the ministry actively encourages farmers to unite and form communities. This initiative aims to provide comprehensive support, particularly in the form of low-interest loans to facilitate net house construction and vegetable production,” he says.