Meet the young Cambodian whose business aims to help the country’s farmers keep their fruits and vegetables fresher for longer
Recognising that the country’s rural population had been largely overlooked by Phnom Penh’s emerging startup community, in August 2016 Moung Vandy and his three business partners started Eco-Fresh Box, a project focused on improving the storage of fruits and vegetables.
“There are a lot of [cooling] technologies that people use in farming, but they are not reachable for Cambodian farmers because they are expensive. So we thought of creating a box that keeps vegetables fresh and is both eco-friendly and cheap,” said Vandy.
The Eco-Fresh Box is made from bamboo and burlap and relies on natural cooling systems to keep vegetables at 20°C. Farmers simply soak the burlap in cool water and then use it to line the heavy bamboo box; together, the two materials naturally trap cold vapour in the container, helping to keep its contents cool and fresh.
By keeping vegetables fresher for longer, Vandy believes the box will significantly increase farmers’ incomes by helping them command higher prices at local markets.
“Firstly, I want to show that there is a problem. Farmers lose vegetables. They lose money from price reductions at the market. I want most farmers in Cambodia to use my box and gain back the money that they currently lose from the market price reductions, and get back the vegetables they lose every harvest,” he said. “Most important,
I want to increase their livelihoods so that, hopefully, they can use that extra money to do something important like sending their children to school.”
Believing his target market to be particularly reluctant to try new products and technologies, Vandy, the son of a farmer, sees in-person sales pitches as the only effective means of communicating the benefits of the Eco-Fresh Box.
“To get our message across, I think the best method is to talk to the farmers face-to-face. Poor farmers have had a lot of bad experiences with new products and technologies. So to introduce something very new to them, I think we must do it through word of mouth or through local people who are powerful or famous,” he said.
While the details of the box are still being fine-tuned, Vandy expects two versions of the box will go on sale at local markets this month: a small box with a capacity of 15kg priced at $7, and a larger box with up to 40kg capacity for $15.