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Women Run the Show in this Village

By Yem Srey Tol, Independence News, Cambodia

Ban Baa Nord village, Chiang Mai province – Two women sit on a straw and plastic mat, chopping fresh lemon grass and pandanus leaves. Wearing white aprons and white hats, they cut the sweet-smelling herbs, dry them, and seal them in clear plastic bags. At 4 the next morning, they will get up to sell their herbal tea at an organic market in Chiang Mai.

"This is a chemical-free product,"  boasts Ban Doeun, 40, president of a group of women farmers in this village, 50 km southwest of Chiang Mai.
And this is a debt-free village, thanks to the women.
The women here not only do the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and taking care of children, they also are in charge of the village business. They market organic produce, purchase farm goods and maintain a savings fund that has allowed farmers to stop borrowing from banks. They stay up late packaging goods and often work in the fields. If they have any spare time, they produce herbal medicine.

" We created this women’s group to help the men’s groups during the economic crisis,"  Ban Doeun says.
Since 1977, Ban Doeun and her 38 members – one of two women groups in the village – have built up a savings fund with assistance from the Northnet, Thai NGO Foundation. The goal of the savings fund is to help farmers hard hit by the economic crisis and who need cash to extend their agriculture activities.
Next to Ban Doeun’s house is a small building where herbs and dried fruit are sold. Established by the women’s group, the store offers several kinds of herbal medicine, including dry lemon grass, bale fruit, matoom and dry bamboo shoots. The Thai government certifies the quality.

" I never cared about basic income, because I can earn money from herb-medicine,"  Ban Doeun says. “At least 200 baht per month."
Besides herbal medicine, members of the group can purchase fertiliser at the store at lower-than-market prices. Income from all sales is divided three ways: 35 percent goes to the seller, 35 percent is used to buy stock such as rice and seeds and the remaining 30 percent goes to the savings fund.
The savings fund now has 30,000 baht. Members of the village contribute 10 baht per month.
The fund helped 46-year-old Suphan Kanphen buy five rai of farm land. She didn’t earn much money the first year she grew organic crops but was still able to pay back the low-interest loan.
" Now I have no more debts,"  she says.
In her tiny cottage at the farm, she sits next to a pair of tall speakers and a cassette player while talking to IMMF trainees. Her husband and children were collecting the crops. " Money is not important. I need my family living healthy and happily,"  she says and smiles.
But her life was not always like this. Seven years ago, she worked hard growing tobacco and corn. The heavy chemical pesticides her family used were blamed for making her husband and daughter ill.

" I could not look after them properly, because of long hours spent tending the crops,"  she recalls sadly.
Later in the night, under the light of a full moon, Suphan and her assistant pack vegetables and fruits – celery, cauliflower, lemon and guava – to be ready for sale early the next morning at Imboon organic market in Chiang Mai. The market is organised by Northnet.
At Imboon, the sellers are mostly women who come from five districts around Chiang Mai town. They wear light green identity cards issued by Northnet.

" It is good to sell now,"  Suphan says while passing a package of Morning Glory to a patron. "The buyers are interested in organic foods."


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