Many young people in Slarp Pang village in Battambang province seek job opportunities in other countries in order to help support their families, leaving an ageing farmer population behind to face harsh weather conditions. Even though the situation for many here seems dire, there is still hope as two organisations have established a cow bank to empower the community.
Banan district, Battambang province – A thin man stands tall here in Ta Kream commune’s Slarp Pang village.
The man is named Has Sarath and he is proud of what he has accomplished ever since Japan’s Kurume Overseas Volunteer Collaborations and Appropriate Technology International Movement came to the village in 2015 to lend villagers female cows to promote breeding, and eventually uplift their livelihoods.
Like many in Slarp Pang village, Mr Sarath is a farmer. Thanks to KOVC and AIM, Mr Sarath is able to borrow two female cows from the organisations’ cow bank.
“In order to borrow a cow, we have to make a deal with the organisations,” he says. “We have to give the organisations every firstborn calf, and we can keep the second.”
The 63-year-old farmer says aside from lending cows, the two organisations also train villagers on how to raise the calves.
Mr Sarath says that when the borrowed cow gets sick, the organisations will help to pay for a medical injection.
However, if the borrowed cow does not survive, villagers will need to replace it.
“If we manage to be able to raise a calf into a grown cow, we can sell it at a high price,” he says, adding that he currently has a total of eight cows. “A fully-grown cow can be sold for about $490. This scheme helps improve living conditions.”
Ouk Em, a 76-year-old farmer who also participates in the scheme, says it takes about a year for a cow to give birth.
Mr Em says it is not difficult to raise cows, which makes it easy for villagers to fulfil their obligation with the organisations.
“When we breed cows, we spend about up to about $12,” he says. “When calves are born, we give the first to the organisations and keep the second.”
Mr Em says people in the village are mostly impoverished farmers who grow rice.
During the dry season, this poses as a challenge for most because growing rice requires an abundant source of water.
Mr Em says having the organisations operate in the village has managed to help rice farmers find an alternative solution to their financial problems.
Och Sauy, 56, is another farmer who has borrowed a cow from the organisations. Mr Sauy says the same cow has continuously given birth. He notes that the calves he was able to keep were able to support his family.
“I sold a calf for about $180 and gave one to the cow bank,” Mr Sauy says. “I will continue to borrow cows.”
“The cows are not usually used for farming because most people now use machineries such as tractors,” he adds. “Villagers raise cows for them to eventually sell. Some cows are even slaughtered during festivals and weddings.”
KOVC was first established in 1995, working first in Africa. In 2012, it began a collaboration with AIM in order to assist Banan district’s impoverished farmers.
AIM executive director Sing Kea says that since 2012, the organisation has dug ponds, constructed roads and helped children.
In 2015, it established the cow bank with KOVC.
Up to last month, the organisations managed to lend about 20 cows for villagers to raise.
“The purpose of establishing this bank was to improve living standards of families and reduce the migration rate of people in this impoverished community,” Mr Kea says.
He says that in addition, KOVC also helps provide training for women and provides school materials to students in the village.
“The organisation helps impoverished women learn how to tailor clothes,” Mr Kea says. “The products are taken to Japan for sale.”
“It is so the Japanese people can also learn about the achievements of Khmers,” he adds.
Khorn Sokhoun, 34, says aside from taking advantage of the cow bank, she has also learned to make small handbags and clothes.
Ms Sokhoun says that ever since KOVC came into her village, her life has been improved.
“The organisation buys one bag for about $0.75,” she says. “Between tending to the cows and making bags, I have been very busy, with little free time.”
KOVC CEO Sayoe Nojima recently told local media that the cow bank project is a pilot project.
Mr Sayoe says KOVC is planning to expand the number of cows available for loan.
“I want the environment in targetted areas to be beautiful and its people prosperous,” he says.
Phen Ting, deputy chief of Slarp Pang village, says the scheme has helped a lot of villagers.
“The organisations have helped provide cows to local people,” Mr Ting says. “The organisations share with the people. It has helped more and more people in our village.”
He says there are 470 people who live in the village, but many adults have become economic migrants in Thailand in order to help support their families. Mr Ting notes that those who remain are elderly people who farm and raise animals.
To the villagers who have stayed behind, the cows are a great help in their agriculture needs, due to their abilities to help with labour and produce milk.
In order to make the scheme last, the villagers will need help from the government in order to vaccinate the cows.
According to a document by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, vaccination is important in order to avoid illnesses such as foot-and-mouth disease.
Long Phalkun, director of the ministry’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries department, says he is aware of the scheme, and the need for vaccination.
“We are happy to welcome civil society organisations who are helping to provide cows,” Mr Phalkun says. “But the organisations must collaborate with our ministry officials because we are responsible for containing the spread of diseases.”
“We should work together to help people,” he adds. “We have the same target to push the agriculture sector to grow so that production increases and so do incomes.”
Mr Phalkun notes that the ministry at the moment has not emulated the cow bank scheme, but it does have the “clean village, clean commune, and healthy animals” programme.
Through the programme, the government is able to provide hay, promote breeding and monitor animal health.
Mr Phalkun says the ministry has working teams consisting of 800 veterinarians in almost 800 villages in Battambang.
Back in Slarp Pang village, Mr Sarath says he has no interest in migrating to another province or country in order to make ends meet.
He says that breeding cows has been enough for him.
“There are no other jobs aside from farming these days,” Mr Sarath says. “The weather has been extremely hot this year, and we can’t grow rice crops well.”
“Many of us depend on our children to work in Thailand,” he adds. “But as for me, I will continue to raise cows at home.”