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Friday, February 8, 2013

Cambodia: The Link Between Confidence and Innovation

Farming families in Cambodia are taking great strides towards self-reliance. We’re excited by how well the dry-rice farming initiative is going among the families who wanted to try raising a new, hardy varietal of rice using sustainable methodology. They have taken to the new style of farming with enthusiasm and the success they’ve experienced has made them increasingly more confident.

One shouldn’t underestimate the significance of confidence among these families. Fearfulness is the hallmark of poverty: people who have been poor for generations are typically unwilling to take risks and endanger whatever resources they do have. But confidence is the secret ingredient that allows for innovations, and innovations can usher in great transformations and unexpected windfalls.

Mok Tal is a 37 year-old farmer. He and his family have been through every conceivable hardship in trying to cobble together a barely-secure life. They have worked as laborers on other farmers’ fields. Mok Tal had to travel to the Thai border to find jobs that often endangered his life.

Since 2009, Mok Tal and his family have been working with us to grow Dry Season rice. Little by little, life has improved. They had enough to eat and began saving money and purchasing more land.

In 2011, Mok Tal acquired a ploughing machine. Dissatisfied with the design of the machine, he replaced various parts with salvaged parts from a motor shop and made a new model that allowed him to plough comfortably for longer periods of time.  Other farmers asked him to make them their own. Last December the Ministry of Agriculture invited Mok Tal to present his tractor at a gathering for farmers in the region.

This is what we mean by confidence. This is the element that takes hold in the poor once they experience a little success. This is the factor that makes real, sustained changes possible. We only need to help the poor to get over that initial hump, and then they proceed to go the distance. The ‘help’ we offer to families like Mok Tal’s is really such a very minor part of their journey if it’s the right kind of help. Our assistance must instill confidence, not dependence. Mok Tal is a wonderful example of the former.

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