How One Woman Overcame Early-Life Challenges to Build a Successful Longan Trading Business

hectares of land owned
tons of longan distributed weekly

MS. OEURN SAMON | Client of MicroVest portfolio company, Amret

Please tell us about yourself

My name is Oeurn Samon, I am 33 years-old and I am the owner of a longan farm and trading business in Pailin province, Cambodia. I own a 13-hectare longan plantation, which distributes up to 10 tons of fresh longan every week.

Growing up, my parents were gemstone miners. Although we struggled financially, my parents were still able to provide adequately for the family during the Cambodian mining boom. However, circumstances changed drastically when my father unexpectedly passed away in 1999. My mother suddenly became a single parent with responsibility for supporting a family of two young children. With the mining industry in decline, our financial situation worsened to the point where, some days, my mother was unable to generate any income at all. This chain of events led my mother to shift her focus to farming as a sustainable means of supplementing our family’s meager income. I was 15 years old at the time.

What inspired you to start a longan business and what were the challenges you faced when getting started?

About 10 years ago, longan cultivation was becoming popular in the Pailin region. Despite no prior experience growing longan, I saw an opportunity to make money as a local trader in this business. In the beginning, I was anxious and worried about investing years of my family’s hard-earned savings in something I had no experience in. However, with the encouragement and support of my husband, I made a leap of faith and started this business in 2010.

In the beginning, things were very tough for us. I reached out to local farmers to try and negotiate fair prices and came to a purchase agreement for a longan supply in Pailin as soon the trees began to bloom. At the same time, my husband was working hard to establish a distribution network at Phsar Neak Meas in Phnom Penh. Initially, wholesalers that we approached were either reluctant to stock our products or demanded to be supplied on a consignment basis with better profit margins. While we did not make much profit in the beginning, we persevered through these bittersweet challenges which taught us invaluable lessons about the business. Over time, we succeeded in building a loyal base of wholesalers who gave us the breakthrough opportunity we needed to expand our business. Having established a stable source of income coupled with financial assistance from Amret, I was able to invest in the acquisition of trucks to lower logistical costs and purchase additional land to begin a plantation of our own. This has enabled us to fulfill our wholesale orders on a larger scale with a supply volume of 10 tons or more each week, while meeting additional orders over the festive and wedding seasons.

What we have learned over the years in this business is that we have to be prepared for many unforeseen challenges that lie ahead. Challenges that may come in the form of price fluctuations, unstable market demand, and even rough road conditions that can affect the profitability and bottom line of the business.

As a businesswoman with a family, how do you balance your time while running a successful business?

Managing an agribusiness is very demanding and often tiring. I set aside time for my family while ensuring I spend sufficient hours attending to the business’ operations. I get up at dawn every day to coordinate two to three groups of laborers and transport them to various plantations within Pailin province. Once this is done, I travel back and forth to each plantation to check that the fruit picking process is being performed correctly to ensure that the fruits harvested fulfill the quality expectations of our wholesale customers and prevent our products from being rejected.

After harvest collection, I coordinate the transportation of laborers back to the warehouse while preparing food in advance for them for the following day. Preparing tasks for the next day ahead of time allows me to create time for my family. Running an integrated longan plantation and trading company is challenging. However, with the right planning and commitment, achieving the goals I have set for my business becomes both simple and rewarding. At the end of the day, the greatest joy for me is seeing the smile on my children’s faces as I return home. It gives me the satisfaction and energy to perform my work and gets me going every day.

What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your business?

2020 was the toughest year for my business. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for longan decreased significantly. Social distancing measures practiced throughout the country also restricted festive and wedding celebrations, which contributed to falling sales volumes. Furthermore, declining orders from the international market during this period had also disrupted our business significantly. This is reflected in the ordering trend from our wholesale customers, as orders have become irregular and unpredictable as opposed to consistent and daily as in the past. Our biggest concern at present is the recent slump in prices for longan, which has been felt by producers throughout the year. This has been compounded by our obligation to continue purchasing longan harvested from farmers. To mitigate this, my husband and I have set up a warehouse to process the harvested longans, which enables us to keep them fresh for two to three more days while we seek assistance from our network of partners to penetrate into new markets in Thailand. However, Thai customers are more demanding, and their requirement for quality is significantly higher than that of the domestic market, meaning that only a few farms can meet their quality expectations. The quality of products is very important consideration for international markets.

What is your advice to young women who wish to start a business?

Like any other businesses, to reach success, one must be committed, resilient, and bold enough to make difficult decisions when needed. Looking back 10 years ago when I first started, if it were not for my boldness, decisiveness, and devotion, I would not have achieved what I have today. My advice to young women out there who dream of venturing into business is to never give up during the tough times. You must be willing to go the extra mile to achieve your goal. You must always love what you do and success will come knocking before you know it. Like the saying goes, if you love what you do, you will succeed in life! I would like to take this opportunity to thank my husband and mother who has always been very supportive of me every step of the way in assisting and guiding me through this rewarding journey. Finally, I wish all the Cambodian business women great success and Samnang La’or in their business ventures.

The client of our portfolio company profiled here is for educational purposes only and may not represent all of the portfolio holdings. It should not be assumed that investments in the company identified and discussed were or will be profitable. The companies profiled were selected based on their financial inclusion and impact with no reference to amount of profits or losses, realized or unrealized.