Rice Banks: Lessons Learned in Cambodia – Executive Summary
GTZ/Food Security and Nutrition Policy Support Project (FSNPSP), World Food Program Cambodia, World Vision Cambodia and other partners initiated this research to analyze experiences with rice banks (RB) in Cambodia, especially to assess, document and disseminate RB best practices. The research findings are expected to help to improve and further develop the rice bank approach, which is considered an important “instrument” in assisting vulnerable households to improve their access to food in time of food shortage. The research was carried out by the Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), a Cambodian local NGO. I was the team leader in conducting this survey.
The rice bank survey started in early August 2003 and has gone through a number of steps. First, an inventory of existing rice/seed banks was conducted. The second step was to identify possible partners and select rice banks for case studies. The third step was to conduct field surveys at village level. Twenty seven case studies of RB from 8 partners in 5 provinces (the best, normal and poorly performing rice banks) were selected and this step was the key part of the whole research process. The findings were then presented to the partner organizations, other stakeholders, and the representatives of the rice banks during provincial workshops, a national feedback workshop, and a national dissemination workshop. The time-frame for this research was from August 2003 until November 2004.
One hundred and twenty NGOs/projects have been implementing or supporting rice bank projects in 18 provinces of Cambodia. Ninety nine of them have been working only in one province while 21 organizations have been supporting rice bank projects in several provinces. Based on the information provided by NGOs/projects, the research team recorded 2 604 rice banks in Cambodia. However, this number could be higher as we were not able to reach all NGOs who are supporting rice banks in Cambodia. Based on this study, we can estimate that the current number of rice banks in Cambodia is more than 3000.
Based on the study of best, normal and poor cases of rice banks in Cambodia, the key factors which lead to the success of a rice bank can be summarized as below:
- Sufficient time and resources to support the community in organizing and managing the rice bank
- Proper participatory needs assessment and consultation with the beneficiaries and local stakeholders
- Participation of villagers based on a volunteer spirit
- Contribution of villagers in material and cash for construction of rice store and initial rice stock
- Guarantee group
- Participation of the members in developing by-laws and regulations of the rice bank
- Democratically elected and competent committee members
- Regular meetings among members of the committee and the members of the rice bank
- Location of storehouse
- Consistent implementation of distribution and repayment policies
- Transparency in information and financial management
- Knowledge and skills of project staff and last but not least
- The participation of the local authority in the rice bank project
The results of the study indicate that a rice bank has wide impact on the livelihood of the members. It not only contributes to ensure food security for its members, but also contributes to develop human resources, social capital, physical resources as well as in laying the foundation for collective business or cooperatives. The impact of the rice bank can be elaborated as follows:
The rice bank is able to help poor farmers have access to rice during the shortage period, especially during the critical period such as the transplanting season (August-October). RB members can rely on their bank for rice for food and for seed. Through the rice bank, they not only have access to food, but they are also able to concentrate on producing food. In case of natural disaster, the affected families also receive help from the rice bank.
Previously farmers borrowed rice from private lenders with high interest rates. Through their participation in the rice bank, they can borrow rice with low-interest rate. In addition, the interest paid remains in the hands of the community. Especially, for poor and vulnerable farmer families, the rice bank helps prevent their falling into debt due to the high interest rate charged by private money lenders.
The committee members are important human resources not only for the rice bank, but also for community development. Committee leaders are elected by fellow farmers through a participatory, democratic election process. Through this process, local people learn how to organize in a democratic manner. The elected leaders are able to develop their knowledge, skills and attitude in working for and managing a group/community organization.
With the RB approach, based on cooperative spirit, farmers get organized again. They meet regularly to discuss about topics related to RB operations; and it provides opportunities to share other information and concerns as well. Through participating in the rice bank, they develop a sense of solidarity and mutual help, and they also learn to work together in a self organized structure.
The objective of most of the RBs is not only to help each other during periods of food scarcity, but also to mobilize financial resources for community projects and other collective action. Many RBs try to put aside 5-10% of the interest earned to increase their financial resources. The supporting projects also help to generate funds by supporting the RB in the early stage through initial rice stocks.
Some RBs are able to generate funds to support physical infrastructure projects in their villages. They help to rehabilitate village roads, build schools, construct small bridges or village meeting halls etc. This leads not only to improving the physical infrastructure, but it also increases the collective responsibility for and ownership of community resources.
In conclusion, rice bank projects have been widely implemented in Cambodia. Most of the rice banks have operated successfully, and they are being managed by the community. Generally, the rice bank has a broad impact on the life of its members and on the whole community. The rice bank not only helps to ensure food security for its members during the critical period, but it contributes to the development of social capital, human resources at the local level and community physical resources. Many rice banks have also evolved into business cooperatives, such as credit (cash) cooperatives and collective investment.
Key factors for success are: sufficient time and resources to support the rice bank before phasing out steps; systematic participation of the beneficiaries in needs assessment and planning, in developing by-laws and regulations, in electing the committee, in selecting the site for the store house, in regular meetings as well as cash and in-kind contributions of the community.
Implementing agencies need to consider the following recommendations:
Rice banks are strongly recommended as an “important” step in assisting vulnerable families to improve their access to food in time of food shortage. However, implementing agencies should also consider the additional possibilities associated with a rice bank, especially in terms of development of social capital and its evolution into credit cooperatives.
Implementing agencies should make efforts to learn from existing experiences before starting a new rice bank project. At the early stage, community representatives should be invited to participate in an exchange visit to learn from the experiences of an operating rice bank. The objectives and strategy of a rice bank project should be clearly discussed and defined with the participation of the members.
It is important that different scenarios on rice bank evolution should be discussed among members from the beginning. If long-term goals of the committee become clear it will be easier for the project to provide appropriate support to the community.
Training and coaching committee members on leadership and management should be organized in a systematic way. Also, exchange between rice bank committee members and rice bank committees should be promoted. In this context, there should be cooperation among implementing agencies in developing curriculum and manual for training of committee members.
Rice banks should be integrated with other rural development projects, e.g. agricultural extension, primary health care etc.
The “national guidelines” on rice banks from the Ministry of Rural Development, which is the basic document guiding the setting up and the operation of rice banks, should be revised. The revision should allow more flexibility for the community in organizing and managing a rice bank.