On the first of September, Michel Marty gave himself a deadline. His goal: In three months, he will have established a for-profit model organic vegetable farm in rural Cambodia, run by disabled soldiers who have little experience growing anything but rice.
“We want to show that a private company can go faster and cheaper than all the NGOs,” said Marty, a French national and owner of the Garden Shop near Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork market.
“It’s a challenge. People are betting on my head.”
The project is called Kilometer 99, named for its distance from Phnom Penh. It started, Marty says, when Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to give 250 disabled soldiers and their families a hectare each on which to live and farm in Ko Slaa village, Taken commune, Chhuk district, Kampot province.
According to Marty, in June, an adviser to Hun Sen asked him to be the director of Kilometer 99. Marty is currently training a core group of 14 farmers to grow vegetables on an initial 5 hectares of Hun Sen’s 250-hectare donation. By the beginning of December, Marty hopes, Kilometer 99 will be a fully functioning farm, ready to serve as an organic vegetable cultivation school for the 250 disabled soldiers and beyond.
“Many handicapped soldiers were idle in Phnom Penh,” Marty said. “They got a bowl of rice and did nothing. I want to teach them that they can make a good salary in the country instead of begging in the city.”