A Danish Farmer to Help Women Empowerment in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge mass killing has left Cambodia with many widows and high number of women headed households particularly in Siem Reap Province.
“This is one of the main reasons why we started this project,” Helge explains
“People living in the rural areas are facing hardship and poverty, but the situation for women is especially tough.”
The economic hardships of rural Cambodian women are exacerbated by their generally low standard of education which impacts on their rights to full participation in rural development activities, especially in terms of decision-making and access to new technologies.

That is why we are here

The government of Cambodia has asked a Danish NGO’s ADDA (Agricultural Development Denmark Asia) to take a lead in the agricultural training of the rural population in Cambodia.
“Cambodian Government saw the successful of Prek Leap National School of Agriculture project and they want us to continue with another project started in April 2005 to March 2008 focusing on women’s agriculture skill development,” says Helge
Helge Brunse is a great farmer, he’s been around farming all his life and he is familiar with Asia Agriculture. This is why he is perfect to be a project director for this new programme.

Agriculture in Cambodia

“In Cambodia we are in a very lucky situation that there is a very good market for agriculture products.
 because right now Cambodia people cannot feed themselves,” Helge explains.
 “For example in Siem Reap Province 70% of meat and vegetables are imported from Thailand and Vietnam. But it is very hard to compete with Thailand and Vietnam because energy in Thailand is cheap compare to here. We have no support in energy sector. There is a big import of fuel from Thailand and the electricity there is a lot cheaper than here. We also don’t have any hydropower generators like what they have in Thailand.”
“So it is a hard work to increase the production and to make it profitable.” continues Helge

Integrated Women Empowerment Project

“We set up Farmer Field Schools in five districts in Siem Reap, 104 villages are selected in the districts. The goal for this project is to improve women’s life in a country side. And that is done by training them so that they are able to get a higher income from agriculture” says Helge
Poor women will be given priority in this project, not only will they participate on equal terms with men but they must play a leading role qualitatively as well as quantitatively in all project’s objectives.
The project will focus on women’s economic empowerment and community development through increased agriculture production and strengthening of the civil society structure.
Women who are interested will join the schools where they will learn about agro-technical knowledge, the productivity of vegetables and poultry.
“We invite mostly women in the villages to join this training one day a week for about 14 weeks. We train all aspects of vegetables production and livestock production. For example of growing tomatoes we teach them the whole process of growing period and then follow by marketing suggestion.”
So we see a big increase in vegetables production in the villages after they join Farmer Field School,” says Helge.
“It is not easy at first to convince these women to join the school because they are already busy with what they are doing. But once they attend the project, they see that this knowledge will help them to improve their life. So they spread good words to their community, now there are more women joining the school.”
There are four people in the main office including one Danish Trainee, Trine Hansen from Vejlby Agricultural College. Ten people in the district and fifty people to train villagers at the farmer field school.

Help to Self-Help

“After graduate from Farmer Field School we invite about 20 women to form a Production Group or Women Self-Help Group. This is one of ADDA’s main objectives to help these people to be able to help themselves in the future,” says Helge.
The women involved in the group has increased knowledge and awareness on nutrition and diet, general health condition, sex industry, consequence of using pesticides and ownership to-and value of land.
“We encourage them to meet every week and we make a schedule for the first half year so they can meet and discuss all kind of activities in their life. Not only growing tomatoes or agriculture product but also social aspect of their life.”
“With new techniques they learn from the school. They are able to produce good quality vegetables which have increased their income.”
The project also advice them to save money every week and set up a loan and after half a year they can take a cheap loan with low interests from their own money without going through high interests from a middleman.
“We have a philosophy that no matter how poor you are you can save little. That is the sustainability aspect of the project” says Helge.
“When someone come in late and the rest of the class have to wait. It is not fair so we encourage the group to set up a system that the person who comes in late has to pay the fine and that money will go into the loan.” says Helge.
Another aim for this project is to strengthen the women’s status in the family, in the village and in local society. Although the project itself is called empowerment women, there are some men in the school.
“When they have to select a leader of the group, the women sometime select a man. However the women are more confident to raise their hands and speak up their mind.” says Helge.

The Plan

Together in three years from one hundred villages the project plans to train 6,000 families in Siem Reap.
“Next month we will prepare an application to DANIDA for the extension of the project for four more years. In hope to consolidate this group and to work with new villages in four new districts of Siem Reap province.” says Helge
“However it’s hard to say how these groups are functioning because they’ve only been in operation for half a year. This is the last part of the project, we hope that we will succeed in this and I think we will.”
Helge Brunse has six months contract each year with this project so he can come home a few months to visit his family. His wife is also planning to visit him in Siem Reap soon.
“I have a farm in Denmark which I plan to go back in a few years to take care of it. I will be busy with that in my old age.”

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