Solar Energy Solutions Are Transforming Cambodia’s Agriculture and Fisheries Sector

A farmer couple working beside solar panels
There is a wide variety of technologies powered by solar that can be used to improve productivity in agriculture, aquaculture, and fisheries. Photo credit: Choun Sotheavuth, PIN Cambodia

This story is published in collaboration with SWITCH-Asia

Though most people know what solar power is, the first thing that comes to mind about this renewable energy might not necessarily be its use in the agriculture sector. Yet, solar-powered technologies can have many applications in this sector, at all levels of the value chain, from production, to processing all the way to the retail of products. Besides the more common solar water pumps and solar egg incubators, there is a wide variety of technologies powered by solar that can be used to improve productivity in agriculture, aquaculture, and fisheries.
The SWITCH to Solar project is funded by the European Union through the EU SWITCH-Asia Programme and the Czech Republic through the Czech Development Agency. The project is implemented across five provinces in Cambodia by three partners: People in Need (PIN) Cambodia, Sevea Consulting, and EnergyLab Cambodia. Its main aim is to contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic growth in rural Cambodia by reducing the environmental impact of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The project also aims to reduce consumers’ energy consumption as well as generate green employment opportunities in the agriculture and fisheries sector. 

Here are two case studies showcasing the possibilities of solar technologies for productive use:

Solar dryer at Baca Villa

Solar dryer might be one of the most unknown technologies to the general public, yet it holds quite a lot of potential, especially in a country like Cambodia where the market for dried products is significant. Solar dryers use direct or indirect heat in an enclosed box, sometimes combined with a fan, to dry different types of products, ranging from herbs, spices, and nuts to fish and meat.

Baca Villa is one of the farms that use solar dryers in Cambodia, highlighting how innovative the technology can be in agriculture. Baca Villa cultivates moringa trees and other herbs and spices (ginger, turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, etc.) near Siem Reap. 

Baca Villa uses a contract farming model and sources its raw materials from 25 small surrounding farms, totaling about 50 hectares. The contracted farmers are provided with seeds as well as loans to invest in irrigation systems. The farmers also receive technical trainings. Baca Villa also provides solar dryers to the farmers, so that they can dry their produce on-site for free, and then sell the dried moringa leaf to Baca Villa. The dried leaves are then transported to Baca Villa’s factory in Siem Reap to go through further processing. 

Drying the leaves at the contracted farms before transporting the goods to the Baca Villa factory, reduced losses during transport. Losses could reach as high as 30% if the leaves are transported fresh. Using solar dryers instead of sun-drying also speeds up the drying time, while ensuring the quality and hygiene of the products, which are all certified organic.

Unica cold storage for fish products

Cold storage has gained attention lately from both the public and private sectors. Indeed, it bears tremendous potential in improving the quality and hygiene of vegetables, meat, and fish trade in Cambodia, while helping to reduce losses. There is also a great opportunity to switch cold storage to solar, as cold storage requires 24/7 energy supply and is costly to operate. The case of Unica helps shed light on the pros and cons of the technology. 

Unica is a fish processing company established in 2014. It works with three fishing communities in Pursat, Kampong Cham and Siem Reap. Cold storage is key to the company’s operations so it can maintain product quality, reduce losses, improve shelf life, and ensure products meet food standards. So far, Unica has been using freezers to store fresh fish and chillers to store and display processed fish. 

Though it might seem inconvenient to use so many technologies—the company has more than 16 freezers and chillers—instead of one cold room, there are actually benefits in doing so. Fish products are seasonal and having multiple small technologies gives Unica much more flexibility. During peak season, the company uses the full capacity of their chillers and freezers, and during low season, they turn off unneeded appliances and thus save energy and money on electricity bill. 

Having one solar cold room does not give this kind of flexibility since the room will need to be powered more or less equally, no matter the capacity used. Still, a solar cold room helps drastically reduce energy costs during high season as it has a bigger storage capacity and is easier to clean. 

Unica is yet to decide whether to invest in a solar cold room as it weighs the pros and cons of the technology.

New partnership with CE SAIN  

Adding to its current network, the SWITCH to Solar project has initiated a partnership with the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN) of the Royal University of Agriculture in Cambodia, which is seen to improve its outreach to MSMEs in the agriculture and fisheries sector and raise awareness on the advantages of using solar technologies. The virtual signing of the memorandum of understanding took place on 10 August.

“With our shared goal of bringing solar technologies to the next level, we are glad to establish the first-ever partnership with CE SAIN. This joint effort enables us to share study results and technical experiences on solar technologies development. I believe this partnership will elevate opportunities to raise awareness on using affordable and highly productive solar technologies for individuals and MSMEs in agri-fishery communities. We intend to bring more local networks through the existing Agricultural Technology Parks of CE SAIN,” said Hugo Agostinho, SWITCH to Solar program manager, PIN Cambodia.

Solar technology continues to grow, with demand from various sectors, especially with the continuous development of Cambodia’s agriculture and fisheries sector. CE SAIN’s aims to improve food and nutritional security in Cambodia by supporting research and development and promoting agricultural innovation. The center has partnered with Feed the Future Innovations Labs and other stakeholders to provide a platform for researchers, scientists, and practitioners to demonstrate their innovative technologies for relevant target groups. The integration between the SWITCH to Solar consortium and CE SAIN will allow a better exchange of information, ideas, and expansion of more extensive networks.

Both parties will work closely to link the SWITCH to Solar project activities with the  projects and programs of CE SAIN in Cambodia. With CE SAIN’s Agricultural Technology Parks at the Royal University of Agriculture, and in the provinces, including Battambang, Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom, and Siem Reap, the SWITCH to Solar project will be able to demonstrate solar technologies and promote them to agriculture and fisheries MSMEs in the country.

“Our ATPs [Agricultural Technology Parks] are established to showcase agricultural best management practices and serve as a learning platform, a research farm, an internship venue, a synergy program with partners, and a private sector engagement platform. This partnership allows ATPs to add technical demonstration of solar technologies from the SWITCH to Solar project and extend the potential of these promising technologies to our networks,” said Lyda Hok, CE SAIN center director.

CE SAIN and the SWITCH to Solar consortium will push for both offline and online awareness-raising campaigns on the importance of solar technologies to students and public and private institutions. Together with partners, SWITCH to Solar will also be able to showcase the benefits of solar technologies through multiple media platforms and networks such as Facebook, Website, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram.
Author case studies: Chloe Deparis, Project Manager, Sevea Consulting
Authors new partnership with CE SAIN: People in Need (PIN) Cambodia with support from CE SAIN Cambodia

This article was first published by SWITCH-Asia on 13 September 2021.