Training Beyond Gender Roles in Cambodia

By Tim Bergman, Technical Advisor, iDE Cambodia

Training Beyond Gender Roles in Cambodia

Sopheak smiles widely and proudly after showing me her crops and then asks me if I can share her story, so this is for her.

Sopheak Nop is 25 years old from Kandal province in Cambodia. Her father passed away when she was young and she lives with her mother and sister. Over the years they have had to sell their land, and so now have none left of their own.

Sopheak first encountered iDE Cambodia at a Farmer’s Field Day where she saw an iDE agronomist give training on vegetable planting through the use of drip irrigation, plastic mulch and other technologies.

Inspired, she went to talk to a local land owner and together they agreed to jointly buy the bundle of agricultural inputs proposed by iDE Cambodia, and to start growing vegetables. The land owner loaned Sopheak half of the cost, on condition of interest free monthly repayments, and they started work straight away. The land owner has another job so does not invest as much time as Sopheak in the field, but she says they work well together and they split the profits 50/50.

Sopheak shares her profits with her mother and sister and uses them to buy more nutritious foods, assets, and to contribute more to community ceremonies—an important social obligation in rural Cambodia. She quickly adds however, that there are other significant benefits to growing vegetables.

She tells me that if she was not doing this, she would be in a garment factory in the capital, working six days a week in busy cramped conditions. She smiles triumphantly and declares that here, in her field, she has no boss, she is independent and she is the one in control of her life. She sees farming as a tool to see how skilful and knowledgeable she is and can be: the more she farms, the better she does, and the more confident she becomes.

Sopheak continues to go to the communal trainings given by iDE Cambodia, and through them has created friends and buyers of her vegetables, which makes her feel closer to the community. When asked about the biggest benefits she has gained, she replies simply ‘control over my own life’.

iDE Cambodia’s Farm Business Advisor (FBA) programme combines the entrepreneurial spirit of lead farmers alongside professional agronomists. It fills the market gap by providing access to high quality agricultural inputs and know-how through a sustainable market based approach. Farmers can triple their incomes by growing vegetables using technologies and advice offered by the FBA. We have also found that women, especially, can gain deeper benefits.

Kean Hen, a mother of seven children from Kandal province, explained how her field is the source of her and her family’s livelihood. This means that every year she is anxious that she will not have a good crop; that the pests will get it, that disease will ruin them, causing her family to struggle. The relief in her face is evident as she explains that because she is now able to contact an agronomist to advise and teach her how to resolve on-farm issues, that pent up anxiety has been released, as if ‘a weight has been lifted from my heart’.

iDE’s Commercial Agronomists (CAs) conduct agricultural trainings in multiple villages with our female CAs often leaving behind more than just agricultural skills. Socheata Choung, a CA for one and a half years, often talks to younger girls and boys after her meetings, offering advice about different opportunities and experiences. Although she is very humble about it, the women in the village report that she acts as a role model for the local young women and girls, inspiring them to think big and look beyond traditional notions about what roles women can play.

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