Bolstering Leaders, Changing Lives in Rural Cambodia - The Story of Ronakse's Agriculture Cooperative
Mr. Am Phon, Chairman of Ronakse Agricultural Cooperative, checks paddy rice quality to meet contract requirements during paddy collection. Photo: DPA
In the northern plateau of Cambodia lies Preah Vihear province. The fertile lands embrace a rich cultural history synonymous with the ancient temple the province is named after.
When farmer Ms Kang Sophin was growing up in Ronakse commune of Preah Vihear’s Sangkum Thmei district, crop cultivation methods had not changed since olden times. Rainfall was the only way to irrigate crops, and she did not get a fair price for her grain in the market. Local farmers turned to synthetic chemicals to ensure high yields. More worryingly, many were heavily in debt and in desperate need of assistance to help pay off exorbitant microloan fees.
There existed an Agricultural Cooperative (AC) in Ronakse. Still, it provided no services to the local community other than lending and misappropriated funds, according to former AC assistant Mr Am Phon. “Eventually, the group was disbanded in 2014, leaving us without an AC for three years,” he added.
During this tumultuous period, farmers did not have anybody to rely on for financial assistance. The AC’s inspectors did not survey the farms for the quality of their produce, and merchants manipulated the price of crops to the disadvantage of growers.
However, help was at hand. As part of the Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South East Asia 2 (GRAISEA 2) project launched in Preah Vihear by Oxfam and implemented by Development and Partnership in Action (DPA), Ronakse community members received extensive training and guidance on group governance, organisational management and individual leadership. The AC was able to undergo restructuring and recruit new members for its board and supervisory committee. Phon became the new Chairman, and Sophin now serves on the board.
Ronakse Agricultural Cooperative experienced a revival of its rice producing business with new committed and trained leaders. Photo: DPA
Phon noted that DPA training was critical in educating farmers on proper rice production techniques, intensive farming practices and organisational and business development skills. “We also received knowledge on leadership, gender equality and financial skills such as budgeting,” said Phon.
“Although the capacity of the new AC board is limited, we gained the ability to lead members in organising organic rice production collectives. We also learned to recognise good markets to sell crops at a fair price, aside from managing revenue and expenditures, collecting funds from debtors and distributing capital to farmers so that they could buy organic fertilisers,” he added.
Fellow farmer and AC member Ms Chhun Noy said: “Before DPA and the GRAISEA 2 project came to our commune, we used traditional methods to farm. The project led to substantial changes, including better agricultural practices such as organic fertilisation. I have personally seen my yield increase from one ton to 1.5 tons per hectare, and other farmers have noticed the benefits too.”
With DPA guiding the new AC, farmers are now selling rice in groups and no longer dealing with individual traders, which previously encouraged a price war of undercutting each other. The price of rice has increased from 800 riels ($0.20) to 1,100 riels ($0.25) per kilogramme, according to local farmer Ms Khat Sokhim. “In addition to strengthening agriculture, DPA is also teaching the community on concepts relating to gender equality,” added Sokhim, who admitted that she previously did not know men and women could share equal rights.
As a result, Sokhim and Noy have become more confident and vocal when discussing issues that may affect their community and households, particularly regarding the amount of work done by men.
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