We often are asked if we know where the food we eat comes from; but rarely do we ever inquire into the experiences of these farmers, like Daw (pictured above). Daw lives in a village in the Ayeyarwady Region of Myanmar and grows Guava in her family farm. She has been a proud Guava farmer for over 20 years, and it has been her main source of income. Growing Guava is quite advantageous, as they are a hardier crop, well suited to many soil types, and well suited to the warm and wet climate of the Ayeyarwady.
As we walk around her guava field, she shows us her guava trees, burdened by ripening guavas, now only weeks away from harvest. In the 20 years she has been growing, she hasn’t been able to see a significant growth in her profits or a growth in her savings. Three years ago, she heard about one of our village savings banks and decided to join up. Daw participated in workshops on saving, bookkeeping and interest rate management, becoming a regular in the meetings that Cufa Myanmar delivered. Working with her village savings bank, Daw took out loans to help grow her farm, buying new equipment to increase production. After paying back her loan, she quickly saw a return on investment.
Due to the pandemic, farming has become tougher. Laws designed to reduce the spread of Covid-19 by limiting social interactions have resulted in village markets, previously bustling with local buyers and wholesalers, unable to operate daily. Daw, unable to rely on her traditional income source, and needing to still support a family of six, turned to her village savings bank. Thanks to the savings she had accumulated and a loan from her village savings bank, she has been able to weather the worst of the pandemic. Daw’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged some of her neighbors to join the village savings bank as well.
As we struggle with the effects of Covid 19 in Australia, and how it has ffected Australian businesses, big and small, it is important to remember that it's also affecting places around the world in different, and more difficult ways. Prior to the effects of Covid 19, the Cambodian economy was experiencing a boom, thanks to a growth in the garment industry and Cambodians going abroad and sending remittances back home. Though conditions were difficult, it did provide steadily growing incomes. This continued growth relied on a global consumer market and the ability to travel overseas. As you might be aware, as of September 2020, this is not the case. The effects of Covid 19, which has forced millions of foreign workers to return home and factories to close their doors due to the fears of spreading Covid-19, has posed significant challenges to the lives of those in Cambodia. This has had repercussions across the country, impacting the prices of goods, causing shortages of food and fuel, and forcing people to return home jobless.
Nhem Sokhon, pictured above, is filling up jerry cans with soap that she and the community social enterprise that she is a part of, had just produced. Any other day, she would be in the local rubber plantation, but due to the effects of Covid-19, she has seen a significant decline in her income. Compounding that, outbreaks of Covid-19 have occurred in her area dissuading suppliers from entering her area, increasing the prices of most staple goods. Hearing that Cufa had begun conducting our soap workshops in the area, she decided to join up.
Our workshops allowed her to take part in an ongoing training program that taught her leadership skills, micro and small community enterprise skills, business management, bookkeeping and financial literacy. This allowed her, and villagers like her to diversify their income streams through the production of liquid soap, which they can sell individually or to on-sellers. This gives the participants, like Nhem the knowledge and opportunity to empower themselves.
As Nhem is helping load the soap into individual plastic bottles, onto the back of a scooter owned by another social enterprise worker. She tells us that she feels like it's brighter now that she has been able to join the social enterprise, feeling like she has been able to see change for herself.
There are good odds that you have checked your bank account on your phone in the last week, maybe even transferred money across or used your paywave to buy a coffee. According to a Mozo survey conducted in October 2019, 1 in 4 banking customers had considered or already switched to one of the new all mobile banks. and 3 in 4 Australians conduct the majority of their banking on a smartphone or a computer 1 . The Australian banking experience is well developed, with significant options for the consumer to choose from. Australians also get the latest technology, including the innovations of the neo banks; fully digital banks , without the traditional, physical branches. This wealth of options and continued innovations have made banking ubiquitous in Australia. However, this is not the case in Myanmar.
Thura lives in Shan State, located in the east side of Myanmar. Thura travels 20 mins to his local credit union on his motorbike, a difficult journey through the rugged mountains of the Shan state from his small farm. Thura is a part of the roughly 25 per cent of the rural population which has access to a bank account through Cufa. As he enters the main village, he passes vendors, lorry drivers and police officers all fixated on their phones, as unlike banks, smartphones are everywhere.
93 percent of Myanmar’s population has access to a smart phone, made accessible by the existence of smart phones as cheap as $20 USD. Thura approaches one of his credit union committee members to deposit some of his savings. The process is currently paper based, using traditional bookkeeping methods. This is about to change however, as soon Thura and his Credit Union committee member are about to be a part of an exciting new project, DigiCUD.
Our DigiCUD program, in Partnership with BankQin and PerformPlus, will involve digitising our current 23 credit unions in Myanmar using. This will allow our Credit Union members to facilitate loan originations, approvals, and disbursements, as well as facilitate deposits. This can all be done of the standard 2G Network (for Australian readers; Australia received the 2G network in 1993!). After digitizing our current credit unions, we hope to introduce an additional 90 villages to the power of credit unions, made easy thanks to the new app.
Our Pilot Program launches soon, and we hope to share our successes and insight with you as Cufa goes on the journey to deliver the power of banking into the hands of those who need it most.
If you would like to find out more about our current Credit Union Development Projects, click here
1Watson, T, 2019 ,MOZO, Top 9 Revealed : The Banking Apps that took out the 2019 MOZO Expert Choice Awards, https://mozo.com.au/fintech/top-9-revealed-the-banking-apps-that-took-out-2-19-mozo-expert-choice-awards , 22 February 2019.
Many of us have hoped to get fitter or read more books during the pandemic, but much like our new year's resolutions, it's not always gone to plan. But for Akara Sok, 8, the pandemic has been a time to learn something that will have life changing consequences.
Cufa Staff in Cambodia have been conducting home visits, a strategy we have incorporated into our CFL program since the beginning to encourage families to participate in savings, at an increased rate due to the closure of schools. Traditionally, we would originally aimed for 40 home visits during the April to June Period, but we have been able to visit over 5 times that. Thanks to this consistent effort by Cufa’s staff, Akara has been able to learn and start saving.
In the brief sunny days between the rains of the monsoon, our staff are welcomed indoors by Akara’s family. While Akara, currently engrossed in her schoolwork, sits with her brother, our staff had a chance to speak with her mother. She says before being a part of the CFL program, Akara would just ask her or her grandmother to buy something, and there was no concept of saving because to Akara, it was just such a small amount.
After receiving the financial literacy training from Cufa, Akara quickly took up saving money. She started saving 200 riels a day (Just over 5 cents), and with consistent discipline and a bit of extra savings on the side, she was able to save 30,000 riels. With this amount, Akara was able to buy new clothes.
With Akara having finished her schoolwork, our project officer conducts their home visit. Our project officer reports that now she is trying to save 500 riels a day, which she hopes to put to more clothes.
Cufa has partnered with other Australian NGO’s to help End Covid For All. Led by ACFID, the group involves Australian NGO’s such as World Vision, TEAR, Fred Hollows and Habitat for Humanity, and over 90 other organisations from Australia.
In Australia we are still experiencing the effects of Covid-19, and there is significant work to be done in Australia to further reduce the spread. Though Australia has the capacity to prevent the spread, reduce the impact on families, many countries in the world are not so lucky.
In India cases continue to grow, at over 1.5 million cases; in our northern neighbour in Indonesia, cases have risen to over 100,000. Increasingly it is the poorest countries in the world that are feeling the strongest effects of Covid-19. End Covid- for- All aims to help the poorest countries through three simple steps.
Firstly, End Covid For All aims to combat Covid in the existing crisis areas, which have previously experienced other pandemics before, including malaria, Ebola and polio. By equitable funding and investment in global health programs, we can help prevent further disease outbreaks.
Additionally, a robust response to Covid-19 will require a provision of testing kits, PPE, information campaigns and medical equipment. Vulnerable and marginalized groups, who include women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities, are of particular concern, as the health response must be made inclusive and accessible to them. At the same time, we must continue to support existing programs, such as water projects, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health.
Finally, there will be the need to help kickstart the economy safely and sustainably in the Pacific. Safe resumption of regional economic ties between the Pacific and Australia, and the provision of low-cost loans for the Pacific to provide vital health infrastructure is key to kickstarting economic recovery.
The local children play in the puddles between the deluge, enjoying the small amount of peace between the monsoon rains. Botum Hon Sok Nhem, the head of the small Samaki Soap Community watches from under her house's awning. The Samaki Soap Community, which her and 5 other women and a man run, has seen a success as a part of the Family Livelihoods Improvement Project in response to Covid-19 (or FLIP 19 for short). Having been able to generate over $210.50 for their Social Enterprise so far, they have also had the opportunity to attend Sale and Marketing; Bookkeeping Training and Education on Covid-19 provided by Cufa.
Alongside Samaki Soap Community, other Community Led Social Enterprises participating in the FLIP-19 program have been able to raise 607.00 USD in total as of July. This was done by producing 2,544 litres of soap to sell to their local communities. Cufa will provide further training in soap production, and we hope that they will continue to be able supplement their regular income.
Houen Nut, sits inside her sons home, looking on as the rains begin again. She explains how, as a widow, she has been supported by her daughters as she looks after her youngest son. Due to the pandemic she says, “it has affected my monthly income because my daughters have reduced their support for me”. Introduced to the program, she was eager to take it up for her, as she hopes that it will allow her to supplement her income, and hopefully turn it into a business of her own.
Older than most of her other co-workers in her micro enterprise, she reflects how worried she was at the beginning. “ I am always worried and thought I was getting too old and illiterate, maybe I wouldn’t sell as much soap”, continuing she says “But, after I had attended many training sessions organised by Cufa, and the encouragement of my team members, I was able to do it”. She says she hopes to help her youngest son to learn about soap production, so that he can keep the soap business sustainable.
As the Monsoon rains continue, soap production will hopefully continue to be a viable business solution for the micro-enterprises we have worked with.