From backyard to retail stores - The Story of Channy, Founder of Reacheny Banana
Often, we assume that escaping a rural environment for a city job and life might be the dream but not for Channy, a young woman who lives in the Samlout district of Battambang province in Cambodia. With a bachelor’s degree in accounting, she started her career with an NGO and then a bank that provided a stable income. However, Channy did not want to stay away from her family for long and felt like she had a bigger calling and purpose, one that brought her back to her village.
While idling at home upon her return, she noticed the heaps of banana fruits just lying around in her back garden and across the neighbours’ land. She began gathering these unwanted fruits and experimenting to make banana chips, a delicious, deep-fried snack. What started as a delivery to family, friends, and neighbours, snowballed into bigger plans. Today, she is the founder of Reacheny Banana – a snacking enterprise with 19 employees, producing banana chips in four different flavours and distributing to 100 cafes, minimarts and supermarkets.
This success did not come easily though as Channy faced various stumbling blocks along the way. “When you are selling to villagers there are lesser considerations. To enter bigger markets, there are so many requirements that were beyond the means of my small business,” Channy told us.
In trying to get her product certified for minimarts and supermarkets, Channy had to jump through administrative, financial, and marketing hoops that were daunting processes for someone who started a small snacking business in the comfort of their home. However, through the help of NGOs like USAID and Harvest II, she managed to register her business and enter the B2B sector. The entire process took four years as Channy often struggled with self-doubt on whether her business would be successful but persevered through.
In addition to business challenges, Channy also faced obstacles within her community when expanding her business. She knew that two key factors would contribute to her success – trained full-time employees and a steady supply of bananas. However, given how irregular the business operations were at the start, it was difficult to get the commitment of employees who were often women in her village who needed a stable income. Channy then started focusing on professional training to ensure she had a few well-trained employees who could run the operations for her, instead of relying on existing part-time employees. She also had difficult conversations with farmers who did not fully comprehend her business model and objectives and have in the past been burnt by bad experiences with other businesses.
Building trust within her community took time but she soon tackled the issue and is now seen as a reputable business leader in her village. The work that Channy does is important, especially to her community as she employs women with low or no education background across all age groups, providing them with the opportunity to earn a stable income and be financially independent.
Channy has big plans for Reacheny, aiming to double her operations and increase headcount. She also plans to use other parts of the banana tree to turn them into sustainable paper and packaging. These plans are in the work as it requires more operational planning.
A common problem Channy noticed in the agriculture scene of Cambodia is the concentration of commodity – farmers plant the commodity that is of high demand in the moment, neglecting other crops. Once the price for the commodity decreases, farmers then diversify their plants, This, however, is unsustainable for the supply chain and farmer livelihoods. To help farmers understand the importance of diversifying and to help create demand for various crops, Channy plans to introduce a range of products to Reacheny’s offerings. She is currently working on creating pickled radish, working with selected farmers to produce the radish and teaching them smart agricultural techniques that will help increase yield while saving resources. This is part of her training in agricultural techniques that she receives from Grow Asia.
Channy’s advice to anyone planning to work in agriculture is to have patience and resilience. “Agriculture is challenging,” she says, “as climate change has made it unpredictable and uncertain. But with hard work and perseverance, the outcome is rewarding.”