Kampong Chhnang is home to a flock of very lucky sheep who can peacefully spend their days in a green field surrounded by beautiful Oral Mountain scenery, providing the sheep with stunning views in all directions.
Of course, the sheep pay little attention to anything other than the grass they nibble on all day, but there is plenty of it as well as peace and quiet, and the combination makes it a paradise for them.
The field and its resident flock are owned by Organic Sheep Farm and are located in Khvit Tuol Khlaing village of Kbal Teuk township in Teuk Phos district of Kampong Chhnang province, near the Oral mountain range bordering the province. from Kampong Speu, about 110 km from Phnom Penh.
The beauty of this idyllic, pastoral setting may not impress the flock of sheep much, but people definitely love it. The place has become a romantic spot for couples and a selfie hub for tourists, who enjoy snapping photos of themselves standing amidst hundreds of adorable grazing sheep.
The interest of visitors has become so great that the owner of the farm, Bun Chan Virak, has made it a side business. It recently announced the addition of wedding photography packages for couples starting at $100, among other tourism-focused initiatives.
“Originally my father and I planned to use the land there to grow crops because we had bought about 10ha and it was next to a stream flowing from a waterfall,” the 27-year-old farmer-turned-entrepreneur told the Post.
“I also thought it would be nice to build a complex there, but the Covid-19 pandemic started and those plans had to be put on hold, so we focused on agriculture,” he said. he declares.
Virak graduated from high school and then he went abroad and studied agriculture, an opportunity that came his way due to his involvement in programs run by Christian groups run by foreigners.
“I went to study abroad and they had very good teachers there and I learned a lot from them. After I finished my studies, I invited some of them to come to Cambodia and visit my farm, and while they were here they taught me other lessons about animal husbandry as well as fertilizer production,” he said.
Chan Virak said his studies abroad taught him the value of keeping up to date with the latest knowledge and techniques in agriculture, so he continues to study and research these topics online on his own.
He noted that initially he started using 5 ha of his land to plant 2,000 coconut trees and another 3 ha to grow various other crops.
“Some crops can take three years to mature; some may even take four or five years to be ready to harvest. Right now I have crops that have just been planted and others that have been growing for three years and are approaching harvest time,” he said.
Chan Virak has been able to gradually expand his farmland to incorporate hundreds of hectares, but he currently only uses 50.
Although he was born in Phnom Penh, Chan Virak moved to Kampong Chhnang over seven years ago.
“We were growing crops and raising animals to meet the needs of our own household, and we decided it was a good business and that if we expanded and grew, we would be able to sell the extra produce,” did he declare.
Currently, Virak raises around 1,000 sheep and around 40 goats for their milk, as well as organic pigs, ducks, chickens, quails, rabbits and he even raises earthworms on his farm.
In the past, the farm could not afford to supply the shops that contacted it due to their limited production capacity, but for the past few months Virak has been able to sell lambs, pigs and some crops such as banana flowers. and coconuts.
Profits from the sheep herd are used to invest in his many other pilot investments like goat milk and earthworms as well as growing mixed crops and making natural fertilizers.
“We spent tens of thousands of dollars on all these new projects,” Virak said.
Organic improves health
Virak insists that all actors in the agricultural sector and all farmers who produce agricultural products for consumption by the general public by supplying markets should be concerned with the health of consumers in addition to focusing on income.
“We have to look for ways to make the agricultural sector safer and healthier with natural products and not just think about ourselves and our own families, we also have to think about others,” Virak said.
Virak explained that just as the use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture was dangerous for consumers, the overuse of antibiotics and hormones in animals was also dangerous in terms of impact on human health.
“When these things are consumed, it makes the body resistant to antibiotics, so when they get sick and take these drugs, they are less effective. Some people who have consumed too many hormones have experienced alterations such as sexual behavior or mood. People can really be seriously harmed by some of these substances added to their diet,” he said.
However, he said he views his farming as “natural practice” farming rather than organic farming per se.
“To qualify our products as organic, we need certification from an external body. So what do I do? I don’t want to be pressured by any institution on how to run my business, although I think if I applied I would receive the certification, but for many other farmers, passing the certification requirements would not be so easy” , did he declare. said.
For example, he said crops grown without the use of chemicals such as pesticides could still be affected by their use in nearby plantations if the wind blows the wrong way.
He said using natural farming methods that focus on safety and health was sometimes financially difficult, but he was able to get help from the governor of Kampong Chhnang province.
“I had financial problems and he contacted me and he found a financial institution to give me a loan so that I could stay in business, but beyond that he really helped me a lot personally. He even held a press conference saying that the lamb and goat milks the province would one day be famous for the lamb and goat milk that I produce,” he said.
Tourist farms take off
With his farm set up complete and complete and his fields producing more crops each season than he could find workers to harvest, Virak decided it was time to start attracting tourists.
Virak’s single 200 hectare mixed crop is part of his plan to turn the farm into an agritourism area in the future.
“I want to turn my business into an agritourism resort, so that when people visit, they can learn about crops and animal husbandry. We will also arrange accommodation for them, and while they are here they can eat wonderful meals prepared with farm-fresh ingredients that they will know are really who they say they are because they can personally harvest them,” a- he declared.
According to Virak, everyone who visits his farm loves the scenery and his herd of sheep and their grazing paradise and he plans to open more to the public soon.
“There are a lot of people who want to come, especially people who are very interested in petting the sheep. I think based on my current situation I can also host tourists now but my dad thinks differently and said to wait first until we are very well prepared so that when they come we know that they will all be totally satisfied,” Virak said.
Tourism Minister Thong Khon has noted in the past that “the establishment of agro-tourism zones has the potential to go a long way in encouraging tourists to visit the country.”
Chuk Chumnor, Director of the Product Development Division of the Department of Tourism and Spokesperson of the Ministry of Tourism, said that agrotourism creates a link between agriculture and tourism and can easily be established in any a working farm with the resources to invest in the necessary infrastructure or facilities. .
“Farmers growing fruit on their plantations are the kind of places that would be great for tourists and some farmers who already have well-developed plantations just need to build a restaurant or a guest house or give the land back. more attractive and they’re ready to open,” he said.
Apart from boosting the community’s agriculture and economy, agrotourism is also becoming a popular trend for domestic tourists vacationing in Cambodia.
Although there are no precise figures on the number of agrotourism destinations, the director was very enthusiastic about the concept and its future prospects.
“We need to study this sector further to get hard numbers, but we can definitely say that agritourism is on the rise,” he said.