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Sunday, 31 May 2009

CAMBODIA Rice bank helps poor families

May 29, 2009

KANDAL, Cambodia (UCAN) -- Caritas Cambodia is seeing positive results four years after establishing its rice bank program to help poor rural families.


Yem Nuon, cashier of the rice bank
program in Kandal’s Stueng district

In Lavear Am and Kandal Stueng districts in Kandal province, for instance, the program has significantly benefited impoverished households, says Chhay Meng, Caritas Cambodia's program manager in this province.

The program here is just one of the many rice bank schemes that Caritas is involved in across the country. Caritas is the Catholic Church's social service agency.

"Confronted by immense poverty and suffering, our most fundamental response has been supporting marginalized communities by sharing resources, supplying seeds for farmers, increasing their output and supplies, and helping to reduce their dependence on high interest loans," he said.

Meng said that Caritas has managed to help six communes and 13 villages in the province, directly benefiting up to 250 of the poorest families.

The good thing about the program, he said, is that although Caritas is the principle sponsor, it is the local people who are mainly responsible for the day-to-day running of the rice bank.

Farmers contribute 20 kilograms of rice to the bank on joining the scheme.

Participants wishing to borrow rice to feed their families will have to pay 20 percent interest on what they borrow. However, the interest rate goes up to 50 percent on rice seed for planting, which they pay back at harvest time. If they default on a repayment, then it can affect their ability to borrow in the future.

The scheme also allows farmers to save rice, said Meng.

Rice bank officials are elected by rice bank members in the villages and staff from Caritas Cambodia. There are three main officials per district: director, deputy-director, and cashier.

According to Yem Nuon, 54, cashier in Kandal's Stueng district, Caritas Cambodia in 2005 provided 250 kilograms of rice to poor families in her district. Since then the rice bank has grown significantly so that there is now a reserve of about three tons.

"I'm very thankful to Caritas Cambodia for assisting the poor families in our village," she said "If our crops fail, we can borrow seed from the bank. If we borrow from other sources, we have to pay double the interest (almost 100 percent)," she said.

Hem Pring, 60, director of the rice bank in the same village, said her village has 26 families already registered as members of the program and 56 other people are about to join. "The members are living better lives now," she added.

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