Grafting-as-a-business: A new business model servicing the horticultural sector

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An increasing demand of local fruit and vegetables in Cambodia is creating a market pull for small and medium-scale farmers to increase their production and generate (relatively) quick returns on their investments, using modern technologies. Local vegetables are also considered safer because of their lower pesticide use when compared to imports. The current total annual domestic demand of vegetables is estimated at 1,1 million MT and demand far outstrips available local supply.

However, soil born and fungal diseases are causing severe losses for farmers reducing farmers’ productivity and profitability. Grafting vegetable seedlings on a resistant rootstock creates a high degree of disease resistance. CHAIN has been teaching farmers to graft tomatoes on eggplant rootstock against bacterial wilt.

Learning to graft

Mrs. Foer Sang, is a 57-year-old farmer in Stung Treng province. She had joined the SNV’s CHAIN Project as a homestead farmer. She grew vegetables on a 100-square-meter plot, yielding just enough for household consumption and a bit of surplus sales. She grew leafy crops such as lettuce, curly and green mustard. She tried growing other crops such as eggplant, tomato, chili, corn, long bean and cucumber, but she struggled to earn sufficient revenue.

Her husband joined her in cultivating vegetables in 2017 and they volunteered their farm as a demonstration site for irrigation technologies as part of climate smart production (drip with plastic mulch and rice husk mulch). With extension received from CHAIN, the input company Angkor Green and the Provincial Department of Agriculture – PDAFF, their production did improve, and they were able to sell larger quantities. Still tomato diseases, such as bacterial wilt, caused their production to sometimes get lost.

With coaching of the CHAIN project, Mrs. Sang learned how to produce bacterial-wilt-resistant tomato seedlings through grafting on eggplant resistant rootstock. Soon the couple could produce more tomatoes and Mrs. Sang also started teaching other farmers how to do grafting. However, grafting is a skill, and Mrs. Sang is particularly skilled in grafting the delicate plants, so various farmers expressed their interest to buy the seedlings from her instead.

Potential stand-alone business

This proved to be so successful that the couple recognised the grafting as a potential stand-alone business. The couple expanded their business to include a vegetable seedling nursery, which sells both grafted and non-grafted seedlings. Clients can order vegetable seedlings by phone or through various social media applications.

Over and above, the couple learned business skills including cost and benefit analysis, sales strategy to reach more clients, record management, and business planning. Together they became commercial level farmers in December 2019, and have expanded the productive land size from around 100 to 2,800 square metres, and producing in a netted greenhouse, increasing family income significantly as a result.

Model farmer

In 2020, the seedling business sold out all stock, including 67 trays of grafted and 60 non-grafted vegetable seedlings, as well as 30 bags of compost substrate, to clients in Stung Treng, Kampong Cham, and Phnom Penh, raising their income with around USD 1,500.

Mr. and Mrs. Sang are now well-known throughout the province as highly skilled grafting farmers, with their reputation spreading beyond Stung Treng. Mrs. Sang was recently selected by the government as a model farmer to train others on how they can implement climate-smart agriculture and grafting technologies.

Already four other grafting businesses have started commercially selling grafted seedlings in Stung Treng and Kratie, and a new business model servicing the horticultural sector has been created.