Home » All our news » Alumni STORIES – VOL.1 | NORBERT BINOT

“I was often in the “bottom twenty!” Fortunately, I was able to count on other students, who became my friends, to boost me.”

Alumnus | Ecole Centrale d’Électronique
Program | Master in Embedded Systems
Obtained in 2009
City of residence | Kep-sur-Mer

What made you progress as a student, and still does today?

Ambition, but also a certain fear of failure. I closed a few doors for myself by not working hard during my schooling, and I should have known more about my opportunities. I realized, over time, that those who have a clearly defined goal progress because they know where they are going.

While the pepper he grows may well be prized by Alain Ducasse and garnish tables in fine French palaces, nothing seemed to destine the former back row student to become an entrepreneur. Just as the village of Kep-sur-Mer, where he is now established, differs from his native Picardy, Norbert’s operation in the Cambodian jungle has the potential to overturn more than one prophecy Founded in 2014, not far from Phnom Penh, his company Fair Farms was an opportunity for him to reconnect with “a rural family soul,” and to disengage from the spheres of Singaporean financial situations, which were not intimately connected to his deepest aspirations — “my father knew the agricultural world’s harshness via his own father, and pushed me towards engineering studies, like him!” As the first cooperative in Cambodia to be certified organic and fair trade for its social and environmental responsibility, in order not to harm neighboring producers, Norbert refuses to sell grain locally. Housed in purpose-built homes, his employees work under the aegis of the French social model, its respect for effort, and enjoy its accompanying comfort: “An employment contract including paid vacations, maternity leave, and health insurance — I am very attached to respecting people and their environment.” Never reluctant to get his hands dirty, despite the language barrier, Norbert has managed to maintain this federative, fun-loving side, left over from his years as vice-president of the BDEat ‘École centrale d’électronique de Paris.

After a scientific baccalaureate obtained on a razor’s edge, he joined the ECE,but the class representative distinguished himself more by his interests in Saturnalia than maintaining monastic discipline: “I was often in the “bottom twenty!” Fortunately, I was able to count on other students, who became my friends, to boost me. It’s a really good school where I felt integrated, with teachers who see potential beyond grades. In fact, most of all, I learned how to learn, and that has served me well all my life.” Aspiring to extensive travel, he embellished his studies with internships across Asia: India, Vietnam, and also in Beijing, where he stayed for a while with friends, including his future partner. As soon as the specialist in cutting it close got his master’s degree in embedded systems, his obstinate, hyperactive self took over to burn bridges and, almost unexpectedly, make a change by reactivating old connections to join a fintech in the lush city-state of Singapore, even working with the New York Stock Exchange.

The trigger was a trip to Macao, where, among other anecdotes, he was told about the opportunities in Cambodia and in particular the “jewels of Kâmpôt.” Stewing on his idea, Norbert developed his erudition around a pepper he had previously little enjoyed — “since then, I’ve been wild for it. It is the first pepper in the world to be granted a PDO label.

Multiplying his visits to Khmer lands, he drew up a business plan, and once investors were convinced of his “slightly crazy” project’s viability, on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he acquired nine hectares of farming property. After three patient years, he engaged a humanitarian partnership with the the Bayon School,an NGO that invests in children’s education, which would “alter” his life. Along the way, Norbert had many decisive encounters: “I believe in karma, so I always carry a little pepper, just in case… And the postcard from my mother, displayed in my office, reminds us of the importance of living up to one’s ambition.” Now the French leader in this niche, while also having diversified into vanilla, supplying many organic brands, it is in parallel with his position as Director of Sales at Farmforce, a Norwegian SME specializing in the traceability of the first kilometer of foodstuffs, that he is working on a project of pharaonic degree: a thousand-hectare plant sanctuary combining soil regeneration through agroforestry and the protection of bees: “The goal is to help with local development and for this initiative to become a preservation model that can be replicated.” A planetary constant that Norbert has always known how to nurture, because in the country of Angkor or elsewhere, like all people from the north, he carries in his heart this solar love that he rarely found in the sky above.

Written portrait© Maison Trafalgar | Watercolor drawing © Maison Trafalgar & Camille Romanetto

Updated 18 October 2022