There is something unusual about Mr Kol Pien: he never stops to work and is obsessed about learning more. His land is spick&span clean and as functional as can be – a kind of permaculture dreamland where not an inch of soil is wasted.
Yet Mr. Kol Pien used to be one of the poorest farmers in the area. He laughs as he speaks to his chicken: ‘You don’t know how lucky you are – my house used to be smaller than your shelter!’. This farmer managed his way out of poverty through his relentless entrepreneurship. He recalls watching an ad on tv about biogas and told himself he could do it – so the next day, he went to the market, got the materials and made his own biogas system. He just recently extended it to better use the left-over manure as organic fertiliser – but also because he wanted to show us how to do it with photos he brought to the workshop.
Right: Kol Pien digging the hole for his new and improved biogas system.
If you visit Kol Pien, you will soon notice rice pots on the stair case. Every month, in his house, farmers gather to learn about new techniques. For these lessons, he prepared rice pots with all varieties available to him – The pots are tagged, dated and wrapped with transparent plastic. Next to the pots, he has also gathered the pests that attack the rice, in little jars to better demonstrate what each bug does to the rice plants. ‘This one attacks the roots, this one goes for the plant and this one eats the rice itself’ he explains proudly as we take photos. His son attends all the farmer lessons, under the watchful eye of his father. His personal commitment to transfer knowledge, and his model farm make the perfect combination to showcase new practices in the farmer learning activities of IFAD.
Left: Kol Pien’s demonstration rice pots.
Kol Pien loves to speak about farming innovations. He is a natural communicator - but he is also a genuine entrepreneur. He tuned-up his little generator to give 1 kw more than it is supposed to – so he could pump water to his paddy field. He build his house by himself. He developed his own revolving fund with a group of friends, seeing how other farmer groups had benefited form the scheme. His pond hosts fish that no one else has in the region (some Japanese carp species). This is an added value in his area and a good example of viable market alternatives.
Above: Kol Pien’s son feeds the carp, with Mr Vong Vanthy, Provincial Administration Officer and Mr Ha Saoly, District Extension Officer who helped organise the visit.
Talking about the revolving fund, I ask him his feelings about the fund and the interest rate. Without blinking an eye, he says the interest rate is 2% - and he continues without any hesitation: if you borrow 200 000 Riels (50usd), you have to pay back 4000 Riels (1 dollar). Most farmers I had asked always took a long time to answer this question, revealing that calculating percentages is not a clear-cut issue for uneducated farmers. But Kol Pien seems to have a calculator in his head. I then ask him why he chose such a low interest rate. He looks at me in disbelief – for a moment I feel like I asked a stupid question – and responds, suggesting I missed the point: because we are poor – that is all we can afford…
Below: Kol Pien shows the photo of his family when they were so poor that the Ministry of Health gave them a paper to be able to get health care for free (only available for the poorest people in Cambodia). The bed behind him was the only belonging they had at the time.