This past winter break I had the opportunity to join a small research team to consult with Kirirom Food Production Co., Ltd., in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. For two weeks, our Cornell SMART Project Team (Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team) focused on brand development for the mango and fruit drying company. My experience in Cambodia would not have been possible without the ILR International Travel Grant.
Kirirom Food Production Co. has only been operating since 2013 and has been growing steadily and expanding its product line. In our initial meeting, the company asked for some deliverables including market access, international competition for dried fruits, and access to raw material for processing. In order to gather data for our deliverables, I spent much of my time interviewing members of the company and individuals that work alongside the company to understand their roles.
I felt very involved with the inner workings of the small business and was able to engage with employees along the supply chain including farmers, factory workers, distributors, and managers. We had the opportunity to visit local farms and understand how the development of Kirirom Food Production has created a steadier flow of income during the course of the year because mangoes are bought in a larger quantity to be eventually dried. We also toured distribution sites and learned more about the supply chain for international exports and how mango was recently permitted in early 2014.
During my assignment at the dried fruits company, our team had a homestay for three days with the chief operations manager’s family. Their home is located on an expansive 500 hectares of fertile farming land in the Kirirom region of Kampoung province. I was incredibly impressed with the community that had been fostered from the management down. In the evening, we were able to tour the facilities offered to employees including a dormitory for those that live too far away to commute, visit a Buddhist Meditation house to observe religious practices, and even join in on a volleyball game located next to the canteen serving complimentary dinner. The satisfaction of working at Kirirom Food Production Co. was visible on their faces. I was also impressed with the labor standards and the genuine care of employees’ well being by their human resources department.
I also had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in Cambodia. I sampled many incredibly complex and delicious dishes including fish amok, a mild curry with a unique blend of spices, and prahok ktis, a “Cambodian cheese” dish with peas and minced meat, as well as the wide variety of tropical fruit including jackfruit, dragon fruit, longans, papaya, and of course, mango. I spent time in Phnom Penh learning about Cambodian history at the National Museum and at S-21 during the Khmer Rouge period. This inspired me to further study the area in the spring semester by taking a seminar course in the politics and violence of Cambodia.
Overall, I had a transformative experience in Cambodia. I left the company having developed a stronger understanding of labor practices in the Cambodian agriculture industry and of the country itself. I am immensely thankful for the support provided by the ILR International Travel Grant, which made this incredible experience possible.