Micro-franchising helping farmers get ahead

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Australian Aid

By Ratana Lay, Communications Officer, World Vision Cambodia

In many of the remote rural areas where World Vision works there is a lack of access to products and services that will help families get ahead.

For businesses as well, selling products in remote areas is often not cost effective.

 A win-win approach that addresses these problems is micro-franchising.

In 2015, World Vision partnered with the not-for-profit, International Development Enterprises, and their local social enterprise, Lors Thmey, to develop the Micro-Franchised Agricultural Service Expansion (MASE) Project in Cambodia. This project was funded by the Australian Government. 

“The goal of this project was to improve farmers’ livelihoods through the Farm Business Advisor Model,” says Nem Chheco, MASE Project Manager in the Takeo province of Cambodia.

Through the project, World Vision supports Lors Thmey to recruit and train local entrepreneurs in Takeo to become Farm Business Advisors. They receive a commission when they sell products, like seeds and drip irrigation systems, to farmers in their community. This enables farmers to get access to products they couldn’t obtain previously, as well as technical support to increase their yields. 

Connecting farmers to markets

The franchisor – in this case Lors Thmey – buys a significant portion of the produce from the farmers to sell in the wider marketplace and thus grow their business. They can gain better prices for the farmers’ produce because they have stronger market power and can reduce the costs of transport and packaging because they are moving it in bulk.

“Through this project, we connect local farmers to agricultural markets. By equipping them with technical skills and new growing techniques, farmers have also produced higher yields,” added Huot Long, Lors Thmey Branch Manager in Takeo.

Like many small-scale farmers around the world, in the past Krong Thoeun was forced to travel long distances to work as a labourer to supplement his income. The high cost of transport and low income meant that Krong was struggling to provide for his children. “At first, I didn't know about this [farm business] model, but I discussed it with my family and we started growing cucumbers. As a result, I now earn enough money to support my children with their schooling and to buy food for my family.”

Krong at work in his cucumber plot (left). Sarun and his family (centre) have been able to build a new house (right) with income from selling cucumbers.

1,500 farmers reached 

Phlong Sopheap is a Farming Business Advisor. He said that at first, local farmers were not interested in the new model. “We grew vegetable in traditional way. Later, we became interested. I am very happy that we [our villagers] make higher incomes now, much higher than working in a brick factory. Doing migration, we were far away from family, our children and wives. Thank you to MASE Project for supporting the families in our area.” 

Another example of success is Sarun Path. Thanks to the MASE Project, Sarun has been able to earn 2,000,000 riel ($620) during a period of two to three months growing cucumbers. "With the income from selling cucumbers, I can spend more money on my children’s schooling. When they are sick, I can use the money for medical expenses. This is much better than before. If I can continue to get great yields from cucumber farming next year, I will build a new house,” Sarun said with a bright smile. 

By April 2017, the MASE project had reached over 1,500 new farmers (3,963 direct beneficiaries) and recruited and trained 41 Farm Business Advisors across four different communities in Takeo province, with 180 farmers now selling produce like cucumber, wax and bitter gourd, long bean, chilli, eggplant, sweet pepper, water spinach and mustard greens to Lors Thmey directly. Farmers have been able to use this income for family food consumption, healthcare and education fees and materials for their children. 

The project has now been extended for another four years thanks to funding from the Australian Government. Sarun has also been able to build his new house (next to his old house).