phnom sruoch district, Kompong Speu province – On his futuristic pig farm, former Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mam Bunneang will separate the sows from the boars.
Their breeding will be as plentiful as it will be systematized—about 30 piglets a year per sow—achieved through a regulated insemination process Mam Bunneang picked up while observing pig farms in Thailand.
The temperature inside their glass pens will be kept a constant, pleasant, 25 degrees Celsius, and in order to prevent an influx of germs, no one will be allowed on the farm without first stripping down and hosing off.
It’s a few months off yet, but the high-tech pig farm in Kompong Speu province’s Phnom Sruoch district that Mam Bunneang has in mind will ultimately house 2,400 female pigs and 100 males for breeding—their offspring will account for 35 percent of the domestic demand for pigs.
It’s a service Mam Bunneang is happy to provide.
“We will be the number one place for breeding,” Mam Bunneang said Friday, sitting back in a plastic chair set at the base of a jackfruit tree outside his second home, a traditional Khmer stilt wooden house in Treng Trayoeng commune’s Village 6.
About a kilometer away, dozens of construction workers were busy digging, welding and laying down foundations on roughly 12 hectares of land.
When he was removed from his position as Funcinpec deputy governor of Phnom Penh in the swell of reshuffling that followed the resignation of then-Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh from the National Assembly presidency in March 2006, Mam Bunneang went searching for another way to contribute to his country.
He found pigs.
“It did not make me upset or disappointed at all,” he said, referring to the subdecree that officially ended his tenure as municipal deputy governor.
“I have an open-minded view. To be deputy governor is to serve the people…. If not this way, I will serve people in another way,” he added.
The local pig market-focused in Kandal, Kompong Speu, and Kompong Cham provinces-has been struggling under a windfall since Prime Minister Hun Sen banned pig and pork imports in August.
Local pig farmers aren’t complaining about the decrease in smuggling or the 40 percent increase in pork prices, but they are now only able to satisfy 50 percent of the domestic demand, the Cambodian Pig Raisers Association said.
Srun Pov, the association’s first deputy president, said recently that farmers are only able to supply between 1,500 and 2,000 pigs for slaughtering each day while the market demands about 4,500 animals.
Mam Bunneang is pouring about $2 million into his farm, he said, and CP Cambodia Co, with whom the farm is a joint venture, is contributing about the same. CP is a large Thai-owned agriculture company that provides animal feed and live piglets.
In the next couple of months, Mam Bunneang said he hopes to import his first shipment of prized pigs from Thailand-at $3,600 a snout-and within about six years’ time, he expects to have broken even on his investment and then some.
“Politics changes, goes back and forth quickly. Serving through the economy goes smoothly. You just go forward,” he said.
Born in Kampot province in 1954, around the time Cambodia gained independence, Mam Bunneang said he has always considered himself blessed with an easygoing disposition that helps him avoid conflict and allows him to envision a bright future.
Mam Bunneang declined to estimate his net worth on Friday, but said he is involved with numerous business ventures, many of which preceded his political career, which began in 1987, including real estate and agriculture.
When the Khmer Rouge came to arrest him in 1975, they pointed to a school certificate on the wall of his home, and demanded to know whose it was. The certificate was his, he said, but he managed to convince them otherwise, knowing they would likely kill anyone who admitted to being well-educated.
Soon after the narrow escape, he was put in charge of 500 cows near Phnom Voar, the Khmer Rouge stronghold in Kampot where three Western tourists were abducted from a train and killed in 1994.
Hundreds were killed near the cattle field, but he said he never felt too much fear.
“I never went against them. I always followed their rules,” he said.
His instinct to lay low and avoid confrontation has also dictated the way he approaches the current in-fighting among Funcinpec members, he added.
Mam Bunneang remains loyal to Funcinpec, and said he’s waiting for the right time to rejoin the political fray. But the strife within the party troubles him, and he cannot choose a side.
Other than his current role as an adviser to the Council of Ministers for which he attends weekly meetings on public investment, he said he has pulled back from politics at large.
His travels to Thailand and Vietnam, have left Mam Bunneang with the impression that space for large-scale agricultural operations is dwindling there. He thinks that, given some time, Cambodia could rise to the occasion and become a key regional player in some sectors.
He has surveyed the modern farming techniques used in neighboring countries, and once his breeding facilities are underway, he hopes to expand the farm to include a slaughterhouse as well as bio-digesters that will turn pig feces into fuel.
“I sit proper, watch from afar and wait for the right time,” he said. “Now is the right time for pigs.”