Geeks in Cambodia’s EPIC Collaboration – Mekong Farms

One of Cambodia’s primary industries is that of agriculture. In recent years, more and more startups have begun to focus on using technology to improve this particular industry.

For this team from the Agile Development Group, they noticed that many farmers were beginning to move out of Phnom Penh to farm in other countries. Their wish is that such farmers would stay in Cambodia and have the resources to development a sustainable farm right here.

This inspired them to develop Mekong Farms – a model farm they hope to establish so that farmers all round Cambodia can have a reference point. Their ultimate dream for the project would be to setup Mekong Farms at various locations in Cambodia to reach out to farmers throughout the Kingdom.

Currently, the team are enrolled in EPIC – Cambodia’s first year-long incubator programme, organised by Impact Hub and supported by Development Innovations.

To find out more about the Mekong Farms (MF) project and how they hoped to progress in EPIC, we sat down with Khim and David from the team.

The following interview has been edited for clarity, language and flow.

What are the key features of the Mekong Farms?

MF:  One of the features would be that the families would be able to stay together in the sense that we see a trend where many farmers are leaving the country to farm elsewhere. The Mekong Farms are based in Cambodia and thus will enable the families to stay together.

Another feature would be that the project would create a model farm/farms, following a “seeing is believing” sort of idea – because in all the years that we’ve been working with farmers, we know that they need to see that something works before they adopt a concept. In other words, we’re looking at how to bring about behavioural change and the farms function as a sort of proof of concept. For instance, we don’t just talk about rearing fatter cows, we show them how to properly fatten one up.

What we’ve also realised is that there is a lot new agriculture-related information floating about in universities and by creating this sort of model farm, we can bring this information out to the people who actually make use of it. At the end of the day, if we can help the farmers fatten up their cows by another 100 kilograms, that’s 250 bucks for them.

One more feature that our Mekong Farm(s) will have is that we will provide training in financial literacy, crop diversification and general farm management.

We’re hoping that in the second year, we’ll be able to setup some vocational training courses that can help cultivate more enterprising mindsets amongst the farmers.

Interesting! Another feature we’ve heard is that you’ll be providing farmers who come to the Mekong Farms with data. Can you tell us what sort of data will be provided and how the data will be communicated to the farmers?

MF: We’ve already been working with a number of farmers for 2 years as well as a group of NGOs who have an interest in this area. As such, there are farming clusters that already exist so what we try and do is to communicate information to them that will help them bring together the existing resources.

This also means that our strategy to help the farmers is one of “action learning”, where they are side by side with us and we teach them how to interpret the data we give them.

For the data itself, we’re in the midst of implementing an app we call FARM which will support the entire training course for the farmers. What the app does is that it tracks the finances of the farmers, the crop yield, how the animals are feeding, the vaccinations each animal has received and so on.

To start off, we’ll be using a simple Typeform to teach the farmers how to key in their data. From there, we hope that step by step we’ll help the farmers be more independent in their farming as through the data they submit to us, we can compare their data to our data and show them the difference that is made if they adopt the various strategies we use on our farm.

I see. So let’s talk about the EPIC programme, why did you decide to join?

Khim: For me, I’ve been working with farmers for 2 years and I realised there was a barrier to what we can achieve on our own. As such, I joined EPIC to learn from the experience, to generate new ideas and to have a better plan when developing the product.

David: Since I’ve arrived in Cambodia, I’ve worked on the Mekong Farms project. I started without knowing anything about it but after working with them, I’m now really committed to it so we took part in EPIC to bring out the best in the project.

Through EPIC, we’ve also managed to test all our assumptions, pivot our model and have a disciplined process to push the development of the project. So that’s been really good.

What impact do you hope your project will have on Cambodia?

MF: The ideal impact we’d have is that farmers would be able to manage their financial literacy effectively. That individually, they’ll be able to plan which crops to grow, how to grow them and that these crops will then help them develop a self sustainable farm.

Looking at the bigger picture, it’ll be great if the economy is able to grow from there as well because the programme has helped Cambodian-grown crops become more reliable. If it goes in that direction, it would be really incredible to see this project having some kind of impact on the export and import market too.

We also hope that the project will be able to generate better quality food to cater to the growing trend that we see – Cambodians being intentional about what they eat.

What advice would you have for fellow budding entrepreneurs?

MF: Our advice would be – don’t be scared to change. We realise that a lot of times, those running a business don’t really want to change and don’t want to explore new things because they believe that change is for the worse.

At times, it may also be the case that your idea is not flexible enough at the start. As such, we’d really advise teams not to be scared of changing their idea and business model, especially if it is based on market research.

What’s more, if you’re running a project similar to ours in the area of social entrepreneurship, you’ll probably need to change many aspects of your initial model to suit what is actually needed on the ground. So we’d encourage you to open your ears to feedback.

That was our interview with Mekong Farms, one of the teams from the Agile Development Group going through the EPIC programme!

With that, it brings us to the end of the year for Geeks in Cambodia but we promise to bring you all the latest in startup, entrepreneurship and tech news in 2017 along with more EPIC updates!