“Organic” has become somewhat of a buzz word in the western world, with people going crazy to get their hands on fresh organic produce, believing it is exceptionally healthy and willing to spen d the extra money if it ensures good health for them and their family members. However in a country like Cambodia that is still developing , has the demand caught on? Absolutely, it seems, and though the practices behind organic and chemical free farming are still in infancy, the desire for organic and chemical free pr oducts is certainly increasing.
Why is organic food considered to be healthier? Firstly, organic produce is healthy for the environment. This is because it is essential to focus on soil and animal health in order to grow organic produce. It requires farm ing practices that care for the environment such as crop rotation, crop diversity, using natural biological and environmentally friendly inputs and the conservation of natural ecosystems. Secondly, organic produce is healthy for humans because it minimises the amount of potentially harmful pesticides, herbicides and toxic heavy metals such as cadmium that are consumed. Farmers and farm workers enjoy less exposure to these harmful products as well. So a focus on organic produce can increase the general healt h of the population as well as the whole environment. While there is some debate about the extent to which organic produce is more nutritional than non – organic produce, there is evidence that there are more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and omega 3 f atty acids in organic produce than non – organic produce. There is also evidence that it tastes better than non – organic produce as well . I was keen to find out.
n vary from country to country, I was keen to find o ut about Cambodian standards, however i n general, organic produce can be defined as produce which is not genetically modified and is grown without the use of artificial or chemical fertilisers, synthetic herbicides or artificial pesticides. Animals are rai sed in natural, free conditions, are fed only organic foods, and are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Any processing of vegetable or animal produce must be minimal and omit the use of industrial solvents and radiation, chemical dyes, and any artif icial additives. Basically, certified organic products have been produced, stored, handled, and marketed in accordance with precise technical specifications. Chemical free certification is given to farmers who cannot meet all requirements of the organic st andards. The application of any substances (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides) is prohibited in order to attain certification.
One company leading the way in genuine organic and chemical free food is Natural Garden , one of the most respected Organic and Chemical Free stores in Cambodia. Natural Garden stock high quality fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, rice and other healthy products. Owner Tharen Neak came from an NGO (Non – Government Organisation) background and was frustrated that over 70% of fruit and vegetables consumed in Cambodia was imported, though 80% of the economy is made from agriculture. Tharen decided to look deeper into farming practices and pr ovide extensive training to help increase sales of local products of improved quality When the first store opened in Phnom Penh (Boeung Keng Kang to be exact) in 2008 and was highly popular with the expat community. However education has increased the awar eness of the effect harmful chemical use can cause and now there is a wider customer base of health conscious Khmer customers.
The organic rice and chemical free vegetables are certified by the Cambodian Organic Agriculture Association (COrAA). Natural G arden’s main goal is still to promote responsible farming practices. They provide technical assistance and support to their Khmer farmer producers and farms, and have a major role in development of the growing organic and chemical free agricultural sector. The major benefits aside from healthier products for consumers and less environmental impact, is the promotion of fair trade and increased job opportunities. Aside from the farmers supplying produce to Natural Garden, an additional 3 farms are owned and o perated by Natural Garden. The first, near Sihanoukville grows bananas, pineapples, jackfruit, and limes. In Kampot, papaya, corn, pumpkin and juicy watermelon are grown and the third location, Kien Svay is perfect for growing leafy, root and flowering veg etables. Other Cambodian owned organic and sustainably grown produce comes from Siem Reap, Pursat (famous juicy oranges) and Svay Rieng. Produce that cannot be grown in Cambodia is sourced from Dalat, in Vietnam through a supplier who follows strict Dutch standards (following the GAP – Good Agricultural Practices standards) and supply broccoli, spinach, iceberg, celery, leek and potato. Natural Garden now operates 4 stores, 2 outlets in Street 63, (BKK), #178 street 155 (Toul Tompong) and the largest in str eet 598, (Toul Kork) with plans to expand overseas. Natural garden also supplies to supermarkets, hotels and restaurants.
Other chemical free and organic outlets in Phnom Penh include Green – O Farm (produce from Kampong Speu district ) a member of COrAA ( certified chemical free while aiming for organic certification), Amarak Veggie Store with a high quality selection of fruit and vegetables as well as other locally produced products, Aliments, and Farm to Table. Supermarkets such as Aeon Supermarket and Su per Duper (stocking organic local sweet potatoes) are recognising the demand for quality organic and chemical free produce in the Kingdom of Wonder.
After sampling some of Natural Garden’s delicious juicy papaya, I can safely testify that I am the latest convert to jump on the chemical free and organic bandwagon and thankfully now have an abundance of options within rapidly evolving Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
BY: TARA ROSE