It is said that charity begins at home, but the same could be said for leadership. Mai, 29, is a woman from Koh Kong province in Cambodia who has shown the benefits of becoming a leader within her family by doubling their income in just over a year. Despite already having one acknowledged leader in her family – her husband is the village chief – Mai succeeded in demonstrating how her plans for integrated family could become an integrated family activity.
In Mai has spent a number of years doing agricultural work on their land, but as she was using traditional techniques she often had mixed results. As a result their primary income was from her husband’s work. This all changed when she joined a local group of female farmers which is supported by CARE. Farmer Interest Groups expressed interest in improving their technical skills, so CARE provided training on topics such as fruit tree growing, animal-raising and vegetable growing. “Before attending the training my family did a little vegetable gardening and livestock raising, but using traditional ways “, says Mai. “Now I know new techniques to do this better.”
These new techniques have helped Mai’s home farm become very successful and this is now a true integrated business where nothing goes to waste. Using manure from her pigs and chickens, she is applying fertiliser to her vegetable plots and these are now producing very well, earning her up to $35 per day. The pond she used to provide water for her garden is now also home to some fish Mai is raising. She took the initiative to start producing rice wine, but the by-products from the fermentation process are being saved to feed In Mai’s pigs and chickens. In February and March she was able to sell six pigs and 30 chickens for a total profit of $500. Mai is very proud of the impact of this on their finances: “Before our income was around 306,000 riel (approximately USD$75) per month, but now it is more like 606,000 riel” she says.
With Mai leading, their home farm has become a central part of family life. Her husband now takes time out of his schedule to transport vegetables to sell in village shops throughout the commune to support Mai to get the best possible return for her efforts. He may be the village chief, but he is not above helping with the weeding, feeding the pigs or even mucking out the pig sties. Even their children have become involved, taking responsibility for tending to the herb garden. Mai makes sure that the income from these is put towards her children’s school expenses.
These farming activities are not only integrated at home but integrated with the community. Together with her Farmer Interest Group Mai discusses what vaccinations she needs for her animals—knowledge they gained together form CARE’s training. The group is then able to buy the vaccines in bulk to save them all money and they have the skills to administer these themselves.
Mai’s success has made her a recognised figure in the community and others from outside the village are now approaching her for advice on things like how to raise vegetables successfully and how to link with local markets. This recognition is coming from men as well as women who are developing their own home farms. Her husband says he has even heard praise for Mai from the commune leader: “When I attended a meeting with local authorities, they said that it is great that my wife has implemented these agriculture techniques successfully.” He has great admiration for the skills of the Farmer Interest Group and has started going to the group leader for agricultural advice when this is needed.
Mai and her family are now planning the best ways to use their profits to continue her enterprise. “I am planning to use some of this income to extend our pig pens, construct a new chicken house and buy nets for protecting my vegetables,” says Mai. “I also want to save some money for to construct a drip irrigation system.” With her technical skills and their support to put these into practice, Mai is hoping to lead her family towards a more profitable future.