This article was contributed by Katherine Clark, Head of Programs at Veterinarians Without Borders/Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VWB/VSF). The AGROW program is generously funded by Global Affairs Canada.
Earlier this year, I travelled to Cambodia to work with our partner, AVSF Cambodia, and confirm our project plan for this year. As part of the trip, we visited communities to speak with farmers involved in the project. One community we travelled to was in the Ta Kream village, where I had the great privilege to meet Mrs. Sinath. Mrs. Sinath welcomed us into her home and told us about her recent experience raising chickens. With little job opportunities near Ta Kream village, she and her husband decided to use their savings to start a backyard chicken farm, but in the first year sadly lost nearly 500 chicks and 100 chickens — almost all of their savings.
Mrs. Sinath and her husband didn’t enter chicken farming lightly. They invested in their farm by purchasing chicken cages, separating chickens from chicks, and keeping her flock away from the wandering poultry of neighbours that run a higher risk of transmitting diseases like Newcastle, Avian Flu or Fowl Cholera, which could put both her livestock and her family at risk. She also spent much of her day caring for her flock, joking that she first feeds and cares for her chickens, and then her kids.
Mrs. Sinath on her farm.
The couple even attended a training course on raising poultry, paying upwards of $25 USD, the equivalent of about 20 new chicks for the farm, to improve their knowledge. But the curriculum consisted of only one training session and no on-farm follow-up to help troubleshoot problems as they arose. There was also limited access to the animal health services needed to protect her flock. Not sure which disease killed her birds the previous year, Mrs. Sinath started seeing the same symptoms show up in the new chicks this year and is afraid she will lose the whole flock.
As a result of this disaster, Mrs. Sinath and her husband had few options for financial help and had to take out a high interest loan from a private lender to help float the family through this difficult time. With little income generated through the farm, they have not been able to pay back the loan, and her husband has become one of the many migrant workings leaving their loved ones to find work in Thailand. Mrs. Sinath is at her breaking point and afraid she will have to pack up her family, as well, and leave her home, trying to start again with young kids and no resources or family support.
This is why VWB/VSF and AVSF Cambodia are excited to launch our new Agricultural-based Growth and Resilience Opportunities for Women (AGROW) project and work with the amazing staff at AVSF and farmers like Mrs. Sinath. This is not a unique story, and many of the people we get to work with are one step away from losing everything they have worked so hard to build. Proud members of their community, without access to necessary support systems, health services, and financial products, sadly face the very real possibility of encountering serious poverty.
Chickens at Mrs. Sinath's farm.
This is why the AGROW project is focused on building the resilience of women, so they have the skills and resources necessary to weather disaster when it strikes — a stark reality as inflation rates soar and climate disasters become more frequent.
In order to support the development of resilience in women farmers, the project will combine training on livestock production and animal health for farmers, as well as training for 48 Village Animal Health Workers who will provide animal health services to underserved communities including the distribution of vaccine and deworming treatments throughout the life of the two-year project. The project will also provide access to necessary farm inputs for chicken farmers, as well as farmers interested in raising crickets and cattle.
To help farmers share their knowledge and learnings with other community members, the project is also working with existing agriculture co-operatives to develop women-led farmers groups, so that community members can easily learn and share together. One Health demonstration sites will also be established in target communities where intensive training on environmentally sustainable, integrated farming techniques will be provided to create more learning spaces directly in the community.