She brought a vermiculture revolution to the farmers of Cambodia.
I am Sok Sothearath, and I founded Junlen after spending my college years researching and exploring agriculture. Junlen is a local business that provides vermicompost— which we prepare by raising earthworms ourselves— to poor farmers. This is a natural and relatively new way of approaching farming in Cambodia.
She ventured across the continent and found a way to uplift agriculture in her own country.
Through my education at the Royal University of Agriculture, I got a chance to travel all over South East Asia. Once I graduated, I knew I would pursue an entrepreneurial venture to help farmers, since I enjoyed interacting with them ever since I was a teen.
In 2017, I had my first encounter with earthworms in Thailand. I was initially hesitant to even touch them, but later I started handling them comfortably. Eventually, a research project helped me dive into vermiculture technology. I realized I could apply this to Cambodian farms to provide high-quality compost to poor farmers. ‘Junlen’ as a name came to me quite naturally. It is the Cambodian word for the earthworm. People find the creature loathsome, I find earthworms powerful. They have the potential to fuel the growth of all sustainable farms.
Her innovative agricultural plan stood the test of time despite initial farmer reluctance.
After understanding how to grow populations of earthworms, my brand reached out to Kampong Chhnang province first. We appealed to the vulnerable communities there. My process of vermicomposting never failed to impress. The inexpensive process took 2-3 months to produce results. Crop yield saw a noticeable increase, root structure and plant growth improved significantly.
But the problem lay in the farmers’ mindset, who almost unanimously expressed fear of the earthworm. It seemed impossible to encourage them to switch to this superior, cheaper alternative. But after a period of our perseverance, it finally took the open-mindedness of a single innovative farmer to give us a breakthrough. He persuaded eight more to adopt vermicomposting. Eventually, through word of mouth, the entire community was willing to give this a shot.
The pandemic caused a rift between Junlen and farmers, but gave her an entry into a different opportunity.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, I was anxious about how it would affect the business. My work involved traveling from province to province to interact with farmers, but I was unable to get out of my house and conduct business. However, since I could continue vermicomposting within my area, I sought more avenues to sell. The pandemic gave way to a work-from-home lifestyle where a lot of citizens in Cambodia started gardening. Thus, with the help of an online presence on Facebook, we were able to establish an appeal outside our initial target audience.
Junlen has won awards such as the Honda Foundation Award, 2019, Dak Dam Incubation Programme, 2019, and YSEALI Incubation Programme, 2020! As a female entrepreneur, I stand at a point where there are no boundaries to how much my business can grow because we have a unique, efficient way of improving people’s approach to farming!