Phnom Penh has seen a recent rise in healthy eating cafes and organic cooperatives; it seems as though the health consciousness that has swept the rest of the world in a wave of cookbooks and inspirational Instagram accounts has finally arrived in Cambodia.
Jan Camp, the Dutch owner of Baca Villa, is one of the early explorers of this new market. Baca Villa began in Siem Reap as a guesthouse and restaurant, eventually evolving into an organic Morigna factory, leaving the guesthouse behind.
Moringa, also known as horseradish tree, is a fast-growing tree known for its health benefits, and used frequently for malnutrition relief. “Moringa can grow everywhere in Cambodia,” says Camp. “This is a solution for rapidly increasing populations, because harvests of Moringa give a much higher yield than vegetables per m2, with 10 times the nutrient value. It tolerates a wide range of soil types and pHs. For farmers, it’s an excellent source of new income – Moringa cultivation could be a part of the new agriculture in Cambodia.”
Baca Villa also produces moringa spirulina tablets, obtaining the spirulina – a green algae powder beloved by health food enthusiasts – from a family that produces it locally.
“Over the last few years, interest in healthy food – and especially organic food – is growing in Cambodia,” says Camp, who credits NGOs and the internet for raising awareness. “We are seeing a huge demand in organic products, especially in packaging and white labeling manufacturing.” The Ministry of Commerce offers support to the company, including it in their “One Province, One Product” campaign.
“We are already serving many companies outside of Cambodia, and since we are International Organic certified we even are planning orders for 2016 and 2017.” Still, he says that local education needs to continue, as “many people don’t know what exactly is the different between organic and not organic.”
Baca Villa made sure their organic credentials are clear-cut, receiving certification from both the Cambodian Organic Agriculture Association (COrAA), and international organic certification from the EUR and COR (US and Canada). At the end of 2015, Baca Villa will also be HACCP certified.
However, the organic certification process wasn’t simple. “You need qualified, highly educated, knowledgeable staff, who have food technology and food hygiene education working in your company to control your organic processes. Also, you have to make sure everybody in the farms and inside of the company understands what international organic law is. You need a traceability system to trace the products back,” he says.
“International organic certificated it’s not at all the same as chemical-free. Especially as we are certified by Europe, the US and Canada, people everywhere in the world like to know exactly what they are eating and don’t like to have healthy food on their plate with pesticide and chemicals. International organic means controlled farming and controlled production, without any use of chemicals.”
So far, commercial buyers of Baca Valla products include “restaurants and hotels, which serve organic Moringa tea for breakfast, or other Moringa products in the shop. Our organic Moringa oil can be found in massage shops in and outside of Cambodia, and some hotels put our Organic Moringa and our Moringa beauty products in the guest’s rooms.”
In the future, Camp hopes that the narrative about Cambodia’s agriculture will expand its focus “beyond rice, rubber and cassava.” He plans to start more organic Moringa farms, as well as set up a Cambodian International Organic Moringa association. With so much growing potential, the organic food industry looks like a very good business bet indeed.