By Annie Bergman, World Ark contributor
Photos by Dave Anderson

PREY VILLAGE, Cambodia — Doung Sokhon’s focus is intense as she guides strips of fabric through her treadle sewing machine. Her nimble fingers make slight alterations almost imperceptibly. 

Doung Sokhon
Doung Sokon

Doung, 28, enjoys the intricacies of making clothes. She occasionally sews for family and neighbors and accepts garments for mending and tailoring from around her village. For now, though, sewing is mostly a hobby that nets her a little bit of money. 

Sokhon and her husband, Sork Sin, 30, live with their two children and her brother in Prey village in southwest Cambodia. Sork is a motorcycle mechanic, but his work, too, is spotty and dependent on neighbors knowing he can fix their bikes. Together, the couple can expect about 30,000 riels, or $7.50, a month, though the amount varies. The money is mostly spent on food, Doung said, to supplement peanuts, watermelons and chickens the couple raise on a neighbor’s adjacent lot. 

“The income isn’t enough,” Doung said in the early summer of 2014. “We have no land for farming. It’s especially difficult because we do not have enough food to eat.” 

But the couple knows that it is only a matter of time before things change. Heifer Cambodia launched the Improving Income and Nutrition Through Community Empowerment (INCOME) project in early 2013, and its success was immediate, with some farmers seeing a jump from $1 a day in income to $10-$15 a day.

Phase two of the project launched in February 2014 and is expected to last through June of 2017. When it comes to a close, the project will have helped 20,000 families in 250 self-help groups in eight different provinces. The INCOME project provides marginalized families with pigs and chickens, along with trees, vegetable seeds and forage seeds for livestock feed. The project also trains and equips community animal health workers to provide veterinary care. 

So far, Heifer has helped nearly 8,000 families as part of this project. Pigs and chickens are two of the most desired and profitable animals in Cambodia, said Keo Keang, country director for Heifer Cambodia. But with the country importing at least half of the animals from Vietnam and Thailand, Heifer Cambodia saw an opportunity to develop and expand, and partially control, the local market for the animals. Import regulations are lax, Keo said, and result in many of the animals crossing the border with diseases that can infect the local swine and poultry. The Heifer project aims to help Cambodians raise all the livestock they need in country.

Doung Sokhon and her family.
Doung Sokhon and her husband, Sork Sin, were in the midst of building a shelter for the pigs that would be delivered after she finished training. The family will raise pigs and chickens, two of the most desired and profitable animals in Cambodia, to help increase their income and diversify their diets.

“Heifer communities are working with local community authorities to control the imports of pigs and chickens,” Keo said. “Our community animal health workers have the proper vaccinations that are safeguarding against the problems.” 

Though Doung had been to just three self-help group meetings, she said she was already seeing the benefits of her involvement. At the first group meeting, Doung said she learned the basics of finance and why she should be saving money. She now contributes 5,000 riels a month, roughly $1.25, to the group savings fund, which she’ll be able to borrow from in the future. Doung and her family will begin raising pigs and chickens once they build pens for the animals and complete classes in animal care. 

Doung says she’s eager to learn how to get the most out of her farming efforts. “I’m excited to be able to grow things and want to grow more. If I can get more land, I want to do more. I want to farm because they want more income. People at the market buy products, so I think it will be easy to sell,” she said.

Ultimately, she said, she was excited because farming will allow them to realize a goal of starting real businesses with storefronts. 

“I’m happy to receive the pigs and chickens, because through selling the animals, I can increase our income. Our family will have enough food to eat, and eventually, we will be able to create our tailoring and motorcycle repair businesses,” she said.