How savings and loans help farmers in Cambodia survive drought

By Savann Oeurm
Im Dein bought a pump to bring water to his home and fields. He borrowed the money for the pump and pipe from his Saving for Change group. Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam America

Hot days and lack of rain bring difficult times to farmers in Cambodia, but one man uses a loan to pipe in the water he needs.

It’s early in the morning, and already about 38 degree Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). A man with a prosthetic leg is carrying a pump to a pond located in the middle of a very dry rice field about 800 meters (more than 700 yards) away from his house in Siem Reap province. 

His name is Im Dein, and he’s a 56-year old farmer who lost his leg in the civil war with the Khmer Rouge in the early 1980s. He says that for four or five months his village has been suffering in a severe drought, and all the farmers and their families have been struggling to find enough water.

Dein says the pump is not heavy, and he’s grateful to have it now. He joined a Saving for Change group organized by Oxfam’s partner RACHA a few years ago, which allowed him to borrow the money to buy the pump and piping he needs to move this water to his home and fields. It’s saving him, his wife, daughter, and granddaughter the effort of carrying water all that distance.

Dein’s face changes completely when he talks about the drought. He said decades ago when he first arrived in this village, called Pong Ro Thme, it was surrounded by a very thick forest with big trees. There was frequent rainfall and the village had water and a lot of fish in nearby streams. 

These days, he says, it’s very hot, water is very scarce for five months of the year, and the fields are very dry.  “No water means we can’t survive,” Dein says. He blames widespread deforestation and climate change for the higher temperatures and lack of rain.

Struggling with drought

In Cambodia, drought and water shortages are affecting 18 of 25 provinces. More than a quarter of a million families, mostly farmers, are affected by the drought according to the National Committee for Disaster Management. In addition, the local media reports that this severe drought has killed tons of fish and hundreds of other animals.

In Dein’s village, the drought has people waiting in long lines for hours to collect water. “There is only one well that has water we can use,” he says. “I went to collect water at 7pm; I was able to get the water back home at 11 or 12.” Sometimes, he says, he sleeps at the well in order to be there when there is water in the morning. The closest well to his house, about 200 meters away, is now completely dry.

Dein pumps water from this pond to his house and rice field. Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam America

Dein says he is now starting to look for water sources farther and farther away from his village—he can walk four or five kilometers in search of it. Some days, he says he has to buy water for him and his family and animals to drink. This can cost as much as $6.50.

Lack of rain is making growing rice very difficult, Dein says because his village has no reservoir for storing water.  “This year, I received only eight sacks of rice because the rain started very late in the cultivation season.” His normal yield is 20 sacks.

Savings help farmers cope

Oxfam’s partner RACHA began organizing Saving for Change groups in Dein’s village in 2012. These groups combine their modest savings, loan each other money, and charge low interest rates. In 2015 Dein says he decided to join a Saving for Change group because he could see his neighbors had money to renovate their homes, send their children to school, and buy new motorbikes.

Dein says he likes the low interest rates, and the ease with which he can get a loan. “If I borrow money from some other micro-finance institution, I have to pay a higher interest rate, and I need legal documents like a land title for the bank,” Dein says.

Oxfam’s Saving for Change program in Cambodia is now reaching 140,476 people, 80 percent of whom are women.

To cope with the drought, and particularly the difficulty transporting water, Dein borrowed $250 from his Saving for Change group to buy the pipe and pump to bring water from the pond 800 meters away from his home.

“I have to pay back $5 in every saving meeting,” Dein says, adding that with the extra time he now has he can focus on making money for supporting his family and paying back the loan and interest to his Saving for Change group. “I am planning to borrow another $125 to invest in raising pigs… I want to raise 9 to 10 pigs, and I’ll use the money to buy feed for them,” Dein says.

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