Story by Khut Savun | Community Facilitator | CFED
Photos by You Sopheap | Program Coordinator | CFED
Translated by Neak Sokunthea | Assistant to the Country Director | Heifer Cambodia
Loek Bunthoeun and his wife Sovan Kongkea are seeing success as vegetable farmers in Cambodia since joining a Heifer International project that offered training and resources for families in poverty. The couple struggled to get by until they saw the potential for generating income with organically-grown produce. Loek is no longer forced to migrate for work doing manual labor.
The process began when Svay Rumpear, a commune in Svay Teap district in Svay Rieng province, together with Heifer International project partner Cambodia Farmer Economic Development (CFED), conducted a meeting with villagers to present the project's objectives, activities and the benefits of forming self-help groups (SHG). Heifer's 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development were also taught in Svay Thom and Kok villages with the support of local authorities and participating villagers. As a result, two SHGs were formed in Svay Thom village and three formed in Kok village.
After the SHGs formed, each started regular meetings and saving and credit activities. Facilitated by a CFED staff member, the first meeting's agenda included raising pigs and chickens, vegetable planting, domestic violence and reflection on the Cornerstones. Currently, through field coaching and home visits, more than 55 percent of SHG members have adopted the Cornerstones and applied new knowledge and skills gained from monthly group meetings and trainings.
Loek, 23, and Sovan, 30, live in Svay Thom village with their 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. Their living conditions have improved since joining one of the SHGs. Before joining the group, Loek had migrated to the city of Phnom Penh to work as a construction worker. He earned about $3.50 per day, but he spent the majority of his earnings on food and accommodations, which left little to support his family. At home, Sovan had planted some vegetables for family consumption and could sometimes sell the surplus to other villagers. After joining Heifer, she saw her village's need for a vegetable business. She convinced Loek to return home and work in the village. The idea was to expand their organic vegetable garden to sell to local villagers and at the village market.
Since their house can access a water canal, Loek expanded the garden area about 485 square feet for year-round planting. When CFED saw the family's dedication and potential, they invited the IVY organization, which promotes organic vegetable production, to visit the family's vegetable garden. As a result, IVY signed a contract with Loek and Sovan to buy about 110-132 pounds of vegetables twice a week, which can generate about $25 or $30 depending on the market price. The family will also continue selling vegetables to fellow villagers earning about $38-$50 every month.
"Thank you very much CFED and Heifer for helping us to generate more income for the family," Loek said. "And especially for helping me to stop migrating to work far from home so I can live together with my family."
Sovan Kongkea clearly understood the benefits of SHGs and was very passionate to learn, receive technical training and adopt the Cornerstones. She especially exemplified Sharing and Caring, always sharing good practices and experiences in planting vegetables and raising animals with other SHG families.
With the income they earned from their organic vegetable garden and skills gained from the project trainings, Sovan and Loek are again planning to expand their land an additional 500 square feet and raise four sows and three pigs.