By Barry Hickman, Rotary Club of Brighton
We met with the commune committee at the end of April to discuss the running of the fish farm and how the proceeds from the sale of fish will be used to both pay down the community loan and be invested in the community for the benefit of the community. Rithy did a great job mapping out on a large whiteboard how the process will work Please refer to the flow chart in Appendix 1. When one of the committee members got up to discussed aspects of the flow chart with the committee, we knew that we were getting somewhere! We got the impression that the committee particularly liked the idea of paying the repaid funds forward to the next commune and helping by sharing what they have learnt on this project.
We left agreeing to return the following week by which time they were to have democratically elected a project leader and what Rithy called “a permanent committee” which would include an accountant, a banking team, an administrator and security team who would watch over the dam to ensure the fish were not stolen.
A week later we returned and learned that the head Monk had been elected as project leader and a permanent committee had also been elected. In the coming weeks Rithy has committed to work with the committee to help them identify who will be responsible for what on the project.
In between trips, Rithy & I discussed the concept of security and thought rather than pilot 20,000 fish as first planned – 20,000 fingerlings would cost $1,200 - and pay a security team for 10 months at a cost of $150 pm, that it might be more sensible to release 40,000 fish in the pilot – a $2,400 investment - because it was unlikely that 20,000 fish would be stolen during the growing period.
We discussed this with the committee and they agreed suggesting that they would endeavour to oversee the security of the dam. Rithy also proposed that while we pilot the fish farm and farmer group loans, that it might be more sensible for him to provide the training and the money budgeted to pay the GIZ lady be shared among the project committee. The committee welcomed the suggestion. *
We have agreed to: -
Once the committee structure and responsibilities have been finalised Rithy will seek to finalise the community agreement with the committee ahead of piloting the project.
With respect to the fish farm, it was agreed that the Monk and his young monks would be responsible, feeding the fish the pellets, managing the worm farm and breeding the fish. Rithy suggests that the committee will feed the worms to the fish, because the monks cannot for religious reasons.
Rithy has asked if the interest paid could be invested in the community along with the revenue from the fish farm? * With respect to investing the community funds, the committee understands that it will be up to them to determine where to invest the funds in the community and that it needs to be for the benefit of the community.
Areas such as infrastructure (a charity house, a community meeting hall, establishing a community market, business’s around the dam), education (books and equipment), health (medicine and hygiene) etc. were discussed.It was wonderful to have Clarke Ballard from the Rotary Club of Balwyn (Balwyn funded the clearing of the dam )as well as incoming DG Bronwyn Stephens and Pam Baker at the first meeting to be party to the discussions and get a firsthand insight into how this project is being navigated with community involvement.
During our visit to Varin we were invited to lunch by the army generals – from Phenom Penh – who are stationed in Varin District for five years. The main commander (pictured right) has set an agenda for his team to help the poorest in the community. Thanks to the financial assistance from his friends in Phenom Penh they have already provided 10 families with a plot of land and a house.
Recognising the synergy in our work, the generals are keen to help us to manage our project by identifying those in need in the community. Rithy suggests it is all above board and they will be a great help.
We met with one of Somony’s managers at the Department of Fisheries in Phenom Penh. He was very informative and furnished us with a list of 44 fisheries in Cambodia who could help us to establish our farm. He told us that: -
On our way home from Battambang we visited one of the farms where we learned that: -
While visiting the fish farm we learned that the farmer was also providing microfinance loans. He explained that in the early days, after a number of borrowers had defaulted on their loans and disappeared too Thailand, he improved his lending process. He had a more formal contract drawn up - he has kindly provided us a copy to use on our project – and only loaned money to applicants who had a land title that they were willing to put up as collateral
We travelled to Battambang to meet with the President, President Elect and Past President of the Rotary Club of Battambang where we discussed the progress of the project. They agreed to take on the task of auditing the accounts on the project. They will work with the RC of Brighton and Rithy to define the administrative process for the micro finance.
During our visit to Varin we visited Hangs family where we learned how wonderful Rithy has been, helping them get back on their feet. He has provided them with a $1,700 micro loan so they can start a Cambodian Noodle Restaurant. The only restaurant in the village.
She will pay down the loan in 12 months, starting in August once the restaurant is established. The restaurant is 2 months old now and is already employing 4 people and generating $40 income per day.
Rithy has also provided Hang’s wife with a sow so that she can farm pigs and generate further income.
We managed to visit Kampang Speu to see how the community are getting along. I am pleased to say that both village communities are thriving and that the project/Global Grant can be considered a huge success, it is nothing short of brilliant and Rithy should be applauded for his achievements as should all the clubs in the District who were involved.
I noticed that: -
During the visit, we discovered that the three dams that were built - financed by the Rotary Club of South Melbourne – are not being utilised as well as they could. Rithy is going to explore running a community fish farm on a microfinance loan basis in the same way that we are planning in Varin.
* Approval for changes sought from Rotary Club of Brighton and Rotary Club of Battambang committees.