In the bus heading to Kampong Chhnang province, Beng Hab said he has been interested in agro-farming since childhood and wanted to visit organic farms where fruits and vegetables are grown chemical-free.
“I did not study agriculture, but I love it. I still love growing vegetables and raising animals. I think Cambodia should have agro-tourism services,” said the former veterinarian.
Today Hab, 32, has raised 20 quails and some chickens. He has grown some vegetables in his small backyard to supply his own needs.
“We wanted to visit a vegetable farm and see how plants are grown on a real farm. However, we could not find a farm offering agro-tourism tours.
“We should have gone to a farm that welcomes visitors. We did not dare visit a private farm without the owner’s permission,” says Hab, sitting next to his wife and three-year-old daughter in the bus.
The bus was taking a dozen passengers from Phnom Penh early in the morning. It drove through National Road 5 to Samaki Meanchey district where people could learn about agriculture and enjoy lunch at a restaurant that sources vegetables, fish and chicken meat from a farm.
The passengers are tourists from different backgrounds. They are from private companies, civil servants and non-government organisations. But they all share the common interest in agro-tourism.
Team leader Nhoeun Chanreth gave a brief background on how his team come to organise the trip before he invited people to embark on the bus tour.
He then requested the participants to introduce themselves. It was followed by a relaxing conversation about agriculture in the Kingdom.
Kase Tour was established four months ago to provide domestic and inbound tour packages specialising in agro-tourism.
It works collaboratively and timelessly with all stakeholders to promote Cambodia’s tourism through the potential of agro-tourism.
“Our three members are from the agriculture sector. Our friends were always looking for agro-farms and animal husbandry locations. They suggested we organise this farm trip.
“Another member is studying the tourism industry in Thailand. Therefore, we started Kase Tour to organise agro-tours such as today’s,” says Chanreth.
Telling funny stories and sharing knowledge about agriculture during the road trip, the participants headed to the entrance where temperature measurement and alcohol spray devices are installed.
Visitors were welcomed with freshwater lemon juice upon arrival to quench their thirst before they visited Khmer style bungalows surrounded by vegetables and big trees.
Farmhouse Smiling Gecko bungalow manager Nheb Pheara became our tour guide.
He says, “our bungalow prices range from $45 to $170 per night. Guests are offered breakfast, a farm tour, bicycle ride, the use of the pool and yoga facilities as complementary to their stay”.
After visiting the farmhouse hospitality facilities, visitors are welcomed with a three-course lunch prepared by using ingredients harvested from the farm itself.
“Kase Tour makes connects agriculture and tourism. We think that it is really good to make people love and promote agriculture and tourism at the same,” says Cheng Vuthy, a Kase Tour founder and tour manager.
Since Kase Tour was created four months ago, the trip to the farmhouse was its first.
Vuthy says: “We spent much time to study and plan since we needed to organise our internal structure.”
And because it is a newly established tour agency, Vuthy admitted that working with eco-resorts and organic farms faced some small challenges.
“Firstly, we encountered some difficulty since we were new. But when we were able to convince them about the importance of cooperation, they understood and agreed to work with us.
“Now, Farmhouse Smiling Gecko’s director aims to promote non-chemical products to gather the local people’s support in addition to their expatriate guests who visit for some peace and calm within a relaxing, noise-free environment,” he says.
Sy Sovath, the farmhouse’s manager, even gave a presentation of how to farm vegetables correctly for the best outcomes.
He says the farm’s nursery has about 10-20ha reserved for agriculture. More than 30 types of vegetables are grown there.
“The nursery is divided into three main sections – the nursery, greenhouse or net house and the open field.
“We have to grow and caring for several varieties of crops. If we start without good preparation, they would die easily,” says Sovath.
The farm started four years ago and is improving its productivity to comply with high demand and obtain better yields.
He tells the visitors that farmers need to pay attention to the soil composition to ensure it is fertile. It also has to do with the amount of water supplied to the vegetables as some need more and some less.
Farmers, he says, should know how much nourishment is required for the different types of soil and plants. And finally, it is important to have an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system to control pests such as insects and to avoid diseases.
“There are some diseases caused by fungal infections that harm the plants. We can treat plants with fungal diseases by using Trichoderma, but normally we can’t kill viral diseases but have to root them out. We also use traps including sticky traps to catch insects.
“As organic farms don’t use chemical pesticides, we only manage to chase them away. In some locations, we grow specific types of flowers such as marigold and garlic to dispel insects by their smell,” says Sovath.
Among several types of farm crops, visitors are more likely to look closely to vanilla plants, a newly-added type in the farm since it’s rare to see them grown in Cambodia.
In a greenhouse full of 36 vanilla vines, Sovath says dried vanilla beans can be sold for between $500 and $700 a kg.
“The period from flowering to producing beans takes about four to five years, depending on how young the vines are.
“If we are lucky, next year we will see flowers and beans. If not, we need to wait a little longer since the development from flowers to young beans takes about nine months.
“Vanilla is different from other crops because normal plants need bees for fertilisation to produce fruits. But for vanilla, we have to use our hands to transfer pollen between male and female flowers,” he says.
While visitors continued their tour to the workshop, fish ponds and the community school, Cheng Vuthy tells more about Kase Tour’s mission to promote local farmers’ products.
He says since farmers find difficulty in seeking markets, Kase Tour buys their products and offers them wholesale in Phnom Penh. Now his team is studying other potential markets in Siem Reap.
Sovath says: “When our farmers in Pailin ensure sustainable supplies, we can transport their products for sale in Siem Reap – the second largest market after Phnom Penh.”
Aside from organising local tours, Kase Tour is also eyeing international destinations. But the plan has been paused for the time being due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For our local tours, we mainly focus on visiting farms and sharing knowledge about the agriculture sector. But if we travel long distances, we will add more leisure activities to the tour,” says Vuthy.
A day-long tour offers visitors enough leisure time to get to know the agro-farms. Visitors will leave the farm with good knowledge of basic agriculture as carried out in the countryside.
“I have become very interested in trips like this. What amazes me is the wide range of farms that are available in Cambodia. There are lots of varieties in the agriculture that is grown,” says Phal Kimsan, on the bus trip back to the city.
Beng Hab, who currently works for a local beer factory, takes time off during the return trip to write a Facebook account of the day’s happenings.
He says: “I took in the fresh air, ate naturally-grown vegetables, visited fish ponds and more. All that I experienced today has been interesting for me. It’s a lovely trip!”
For more detail about Kase Tour and agro-tourism, you can visit its Facebook page: @camkasetour or contact number: 077 958 797.