farmers laughed at me” recalls Teik Voeut, taking time from
of the family’s small field to talk to us. She has been experimenting
with a new rice planting technique to increase rice yields and improve
efficiency. Even though her husband was supportive, he also laughed.
But when the new rice grew successfully, he was convinced.
Teik Voeut is one of two women from her village, Takom, who attended
SRI (System for Rice Intensification) training. The new technique
is being introduced by Oxfam GB’s partner, Aphiwat Strey (or
Women Development in English). The non-governmental organization
operates in Battambong province in northern Cambodia where annual
droughts and floods punctuate life, and the environment is harsh.
The average annual income for a rural family is about US$100, and
some 35% of the population lives in poverty. Aphiwat Strey works
to improve men’s and women’s sustainable use of natural
resources in predominantly rural Cambodia where 85% of the rural
population are farmers.
The men of the village were not eager to attend the training. “They
thought they were too busy and didn’t want to try” says
Teik. But for her, trying was not a big gamble. “I could only
lose one seed!” she recalls, laughing. The technique requires
only one rice seed instead of the few that farmers usually use for
planting. And the gamble seems to have paid off. Teik spends less
time ploughing and weeding and is now a model farmer within the
village. She welcomes others to come and learn from her experience.
“Women are more willing to apply new techniques because they
are more trusting (of new ideas)” reflects Aphiwat Strey’s
agriculture officer, Pok Sarveasna. “Then men follow when
they see the results”. The fact that women are primarily involved
in seeding, weeding and harvesting also makes them ideal candidates
to be trained as “model farmers”. Yet agriculture programmes
worldwide tend to be designed by men for men even though women are
just as or even more involved in farming. In Cambodia, 65% of the
farming population is female.
Moreover, it’s usually men who make the decisions in farming
and men who control inputs like seeding and credit. For example,
the Takom Village Development Committee is dominated by men. Although
the chairman of this committee is sympathetic with the needs of
women, female village members do not feel the popularly-elected
committee understands their point of view or represents their interests.
And even the land which both Teik and her husband farm is registered
only in his name, although she wants them both recorded on the title
Herein lie the challenges for Oxfam and its partners: How do you
promote opportunities and leadership for women in places where men
tend to dominate, and policies, practices and beliefs tend to discriminate
against women? How do you ensure that both men and women benefit
equally from community development initiatives? How do you do this
in a way that encourages women to actively participate in all aspects
of the project, especially decision making, without increasing their
For Oxfam, a key approach is ensuring both women and men equally
participate and benefit from all aspects of the community’s
development and that they share in control, decision-making and
access to the resources. Oxfam’s work often means providing
opportunities and support for women to fully participate both as
decision makers and beneficiaries. Women’s role in the community
– both actual and potential – needs to be recognized.
Such opportunities come about not only through directly supporting
women, but also by convincing men and the community that everybody
benefits when both women and men share equally in all aspects of
community and family life: whether the tasks or the decisions are
on the farm, in the house, in the community or at the national level.
Promoting equality between men and women is not only a community
development issue but a human rights one as well.
Back in Takom, Teik and her husband will apply the SRI technique
to their entire rice crop next year. So will their daughter. In
the meantime, they need to figure out how to make up a short-fall
of 13 sacks of rice that they will need to survive until the next
harvest. Despite the success of the new technique, severe floods
in 2003 decreased their overall output, which will make paying back
loans more difficult.
There are many changes now happening in modern Cambodia affecting
farmers in ways they cannot control. Cheap imports of rice from
Viet Nam undercut their market while environmental changes have
made the annual cycle of flood and drought less predictable. This
ancient way of life is less stable than ever before. New rice planting
techniques are just the start for families like Teik’s to
take control of their lives and decide their futures that will really
ensure sustainable and secure ways of making a living as rice farmers