prey kabbas district, Takeo province – In an already poor community, Long Sokha, her husband and their six children were just about destitute. That is, until last year, when they were given a cow.
“I used to be the poorest in the village,” the 45-year-old said recently beneath her family’s stilt shack in Snor commune’s Rokar village. “It was hard to borrow money from the other villagers because they saw I had nothing.”
But the cow given to her by development NGO Oxfam Australia has boosted her social standing, and unlike before, her neighbors are happy to lend her money, she said.
Oxfam’s “cow bank” program—which it started in 1993—has the modest goal of giving those languishing in poverty at least some source of income—primarily by selling the cow’s manure, which can earn around $0.50 per day, or using the manure to fertilize their fields, boosting agricultural productivity.
The project works like this: The poorest of the poor are given a cow, which gives birth to a calf. The family keeps the calf and the cow is transferred to another family, where the process is repeated. According to Oxfam Australia, a cow typically costs around $250.
By Huor, deputy project assistant for Oxfam Australia in Takeo province, said that it was an unexpected bonus to see a cow elevate a villager’s credit worthiness, transforming them into trustworthy borrowers, at least in the eyes of their neighbors.
Cowless villagers are looked down on by other villagers, said Pok Sry, deputy chief of the village development committee for Snor commune.
“Villagers often don’t want to lend money to them,” Pok Sry said. “But at least when they have a cow, villagers are more willing to lend them money.”
Deputy Commune Chief Thik Kim Sry said that villagers will congratulate a family that shows itself to steadfastly care for their donated cow, gaining them increased status and trust in the community.
Long Sokha is still very poor, but she is viewed in a different light since receiving her cow in March of last year.
“I feel more confident lending her money now,” said neighbor Kim Panha, 39, a local farmer who supplements his income by silk weaving.
What could be described as her upgraded credit rating has enabled Long Sokha to borrow money from neighbors to buy, fry and sell bananas on the local market. She earns 4,500 riel per day from this endeavor, enabling her to buy 3 kg of rice per day to feed her large family.
By Hour said that Oxfam views the improved borrowing prospects of cow recipients to be positive, despite the potential that such borrowing could lead some into debt.
He pointed to Long Sokha as an example, saying that her banana-selling venture was far too small-scale to earn much profit. It was only after she was able to secure loans from villagers that she could expand it to the point that she could truly benefit her family and pay her creditors back.
“Now that they have cows, their conditions have slightly improved,” said Pok Sry, referring to the five families in Rokar village who have received Oxfam cows. Admittedly, he said, there have been no sudden rags-to-riches stories, but considering that they are the poorest families of an already poor village, having a cow is at least a start.
Long Sokha couldn’t agree more.
“When we had nothing, it made me sick to think about what will happen to my children in the future,” she said. “But getting a cow made me happy.”