In 2005 I was sent as a missionary to Cambodia to work in the Cambodia Baptist Union. There, I met a local pastor who continuously talked about the children’s need to learn English in his village. One day I decided to go to the village, and I found that English was not their need. In fact, sustainable agriculture was their need. That’s how I met Pastor Ven Ban, who eventually went to study at ARI in 2009 and that’s how Jacob Sustainable Farming Center Cambodia (JSFCC) was started. Mr. Swu, the warden of Cambodia Tyrannus Hall dormitory, Pastor Ven Ban and I were the co-founders.
Jacob Sustainable Farming Center Cambodia (JSFCC) at Tra Peng Tasom Village (2012)
“Teacher, now I know exactly why many children and sometimes the adults in our village get sick during the rice growing season. We always apply a lot of these chemicals on the soil to make our work easier and to control pests and insects. I was not aware of the dangers. My villagers did not know about it either. But we always get sick. People have heavy headaches, stomachaches, diarrhea, vomiting and other things,” exclaimed pastor Ven Ban on one occasion while we were discussing the health situation in the village. Also, every family in the village had socioeconomic challenges caused by the use of the chemical fertilizers. Soil degradation over the years put the small-scale farmers into debt as they needed more money to get greater amounts of chemical fertilizers every year. When harvest time came, the biggest amount of their harvest went to pay off their debts, leaving them without enough food to feed their families until the next harvest.
The first challenge we encountered in establishing a model farm was procuring a piece of land. Eventually, Pastor Ven Ban’s father allowed us to use his land on the outskirts of the village for free. Another challenge was finding a safe water source for drinking, as well as for growing vegetables, and raising chickens. It took us time to raise funds from friends as well as from our own pockets to build the house and the water pump.
Building for the classrooms and sleeping accommodations / Underground water pump
One very good and stable resource for this project was Pastor Ven Ban himself. He was a pastor in the village and a local person in the neighborhood and because of him, people trusted us. He tried his best to identify all the local resources in the area and then used them for making feed for the chickens, bokashi for the soil, and for maintaining a compost pit. These practices were different from how the villagers farmed and his actions served as a demonstration and example. It was not easy to change people’s mentality, but when they saw him farming in this way, they started to have interest and some of them came to learn from him.
Pastor Ven Ban (right) with Mr. Swu gathering breakfast
One day, I was walking around the village and when I saw a man who was an amputee from a landmine explosion, I was very touched to see what he was doing after he got training from Pastor Ven Ban. He was able to raise his chickens using local resources. He has constructed a chicken house from palm leaves and bamboo and was making chicken feed mainly from locally available ingredients. With his chicken manure, he was making bokashi to use to grow vegetables for his family. He had learned these things from Pastor Ven Ban at the JSFCC. Palm leaves, banana stems, coconut powder, rice bran, rice husks, corn stalks – all these became rich resources for farming. In the past, villagers had simply burned these things as if they were trash, but now they collect them like treasure!
My training at ARI not only empowered me as a woman, or helped me by enhancing my leadership skills, but another important thing that I learned was how to evaluate situations and address problems through agriculture. Working with people at the grassroots both in Nagaland and in Cambodia, I learned that it is not only money that can solve problems in life. I learned the vital importance of agriculture and the skills that we need to work with people in rural areas. I also learned the importance of the rich natural resources that are available locally, which we can use in helping people. In this, ARI has its own uniqueness in imparting these kinds of ideas and techniques to rural leaders, motivating us to love soil and nature, so that we may use these to help people solve their problems.
JSFCC still faces many struggles, but God has provided assistance. A pastor, Rev. Isaac Yim, who took a lot of interest in the project, started to put efforts into raising funds for JSFCC. With his help, a much bigger piece of land could be procured, and a formal agricultural training school was established.
One clear reason that this farm project still continues today is because of the stable leadership that we were able to build between Mr. Swu, Pastor Ven Ban, and myself, before I departed late in 2012. Our relationships were built on trust and that was how I connected them to funders, too. ARI taught me that in any entrusted capacity, my leadership should not be about me. It is mentioned in ARI’s Training Handbook, “Nurturing the leaders….” From the time I am entrusted with any responsibility, making it into a sustainable and sustaining one means building local leadership to carry on the work. That is another vital thing I learned at ARI.