Our cactus project in Cambodia was featured in the TOKYO & CHUNICHI SHINBUN

Our Revitalization project of minefield after demining, Prickly Pear Cactus Project in Cambodia was interviewed by THE TOKYO & CHUNICHI SHINBUN (Japanese Daily Newspaper).

[The Article Content]

Tokyo-based company turns former minefield into cactus farm in Cambodia

IOS, a start-up company based in Shinjuku, Tokyo, is working on a project to cultivate the cactus in a former minefield in cooperation with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), a government agency in Cambodia that promotes the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance. IMAI Kentaro, 49, CEO of IOS, is enthusiastic about the project, “We hope to industrialize the cactus and create employment in the community.” (In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, FUJIKAWA Hiroki)

◆Food, livestock feed, material for cosmetics and a wide variety of usages

“When I first heard about the plan, I thought it was an interesting idea. I feel that cactus is an appropriate crop for Cambodia.” CMAC Director General Heng Ratana received Mr. IMAI in mid-November in his office at CMAC, located in the center of Phnom Penh, and expressed his hopes for the project. During the civil war that began around 1970 and lasted more than 20 years, between 4 and 6 million landmines were laid in Cambodia, and while the CMAC have been steadily clearing the landmines, the effective use of the landmine sites has become an issue.

The plan to cultivate cactus began when Mr. FUKUMOTO Katsunori, President of Blanche (Kasugai City, Aichi Prefecture), suggested that cactus with high environmental tolerance could also be grown in Cambodia. They invited Associate Professor HORIBE Takanori, 36, of Chubu University, a leading expert in cactus research, as an external expert and began cultivating Mexican cactus in Battambang, a suburb in the western part of the country in July.

The cultivation site is an area called “CDC” managed by CMAC. The total area is 17.95 square kilometers of farmland and residential areas prepared for deminers who have retired from active duty and their families. The area is also used for testing and research of domestic and international agricultural technology. The cost of purchasing cactus is covered by IOS, and CMAC officials are in charge of cultivating the cactus.

Dr. Horibe, who visited the site in September to check the growth of the cactus, says he is pleased with the response, “So far, it is doing well.” According to Dr. Horibe, the cactus is tolerant of both dryness and heavy rainfall and can be grown in a wide area of Asia. It requires only one-sixth the water of rice and one-fourth that of corn.

It has a wide range of uses, including food, livestock feed, and cosmetic materials. In Mexico, one of the world’s three largest producers, it is used as a garnish for meat dishes, and Dr. Horibe says, “Its slimy and sour taste goes well with steaks.”

◆IOS has also been developing a demining robot.

IOS, which has been promoting cactus cultivation in former minefields, has also been developing demining robots in cooperation with CMAC for the past five years. IOS was founded in 2016 with the principle of “using technology to solve the hard and dangerous work” and began developing demining robots after visiting CMAC in 2017 with an introduction from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Mainly the demining process consists of “Detection” for mines in a large minefield with a metal detector etc., “Excavation” to find mines under the ground with a prodder and shovel, and “Blasting or Salvage” to dispose of mines. IOS robots perform minefield excavation in place of humans. The robot can be operated from a remote location by remote control, reducing the risk and burden on the workers. The fifth-generation robot, which has been tested at CMAC’s test field, was deployed on November 16 in the minefield of Siem Reap in the northwestern part of the country. According to IMAI, who was present at the site, the robot was able to find out unexploded ordnance on the first day and anti-personnel mine on the second day.