A woman village chief in Cambodia grows a community forestry credit scheme into a self-generating source of income for the community and the protection of the forest, despite obstacles.
Talk of the Forest
By the time Choup Saroeurn arrived in Kratie Province for a community forestry credit scheme workshop, she had already made up her mind to quit her role as chief.
“I wanted to resign,” said Choup, who is from Khsach Leav Village in Cambodia’s Kratie Province. A member of the scheme refused to pay interest on their loan for more than two months, and Choup felt that she was at fault. “I was afraid others would follow this example and blame me for my lack of management,” she said.
RECOFTC designed the community forestry credit scheme in 2014 as a new way for communities to fund their community forestry management practices. Self-run, and with an interest of only 3 percent, the credit scheme is a safer alternative to microfinance loans. The interest then goes to increasing the credit scheme, covering administration costs and managing the community forest.
In 2016, the scheme was piloted in 10 communities across Kratie and Strung Treng provinces as part of the Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries (PaFF). The partnership, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, is an eight-year project to improve local resilience to natural and economic shocks through community-based natural resource management.
PaFF supported Khsach Leav Village to start its own community forestry credit scheme in December 2018.
Choup had only been chief for three months before her decision to resign in February 2019. But while attending a PaFF community forestry credit scheme reflection workshop, Choup received support from other community leaders who encouraged her to continue. Other participants shared their experiences about their scheme and provided advice on how to solve Choup’s problem.
RECOFTC also helped facilitate a meeting with all of the community forestry credit scheme members in Khsach Leav Village, including the member who refused to pay interest, and the local authority. Choup used this opportunity to convince the community members that the credit scheme was beneficial for them and different from previous models.
“The money I manage from the credit scheme is not my own money,” said Choup. “It belongs to everyone and is the only source of income that we can generate to protect our forests.”
For Choup, this aspect differentiates the credit scheme from a saving group created in 2014 with the help of another non-government organization. The saving group operated without recognition or approval from government agencies, and community members did not know much about it. Consequently, the saving group’s budget was lost without any proper reason.
“This credit scheme is known by members of the community forest,” said Choup. “So if we take this money, it means we are taking each other’s money.”
Choup’s leadership inspired members who attended the meeting. In fact, the member whose actions first caused Choup to doubt her own leadership agreed to pay back the interest. Five other credit members who took money from the previously defunct saving group also agreed to pay back the money and place it in the community forestry credit scheme. This totalled an additional 550 US dollars for the community to use.
Now, Khsach Leav’s scheme generates about 20 US dollars a month from interest and has 2,170 US dollars funds available to loan to community members. This has almost doubled since Choup first joined as the scheme’s chief.
“It was like a dream,” said Choup. “I was prepared to write my letter of resignation, but now I am committed to fulfilling my work and bringing more success to our credit scheme.”