Long An's farmers make poverty history
by Bao Tri
|Digging deep: After every harvesting season, members from the farmers' association of Long An Commune call for contributions to the poverty alleviation fund.
|Meal ticket: Nguyen Van Tuc feeds the herd of cows he raises thanks to the fund. — VNS Photos Bao Tri
"If everyone is overly dependent on state support, how can poverty be eradicated?" This is the question that Tran Van Thiep first pondered when seeing members of his rural community in An Giang's Long An Commune struggling to earn a living. He saw that relying on money from the Government would not provide a sustainable escape for those in need.
"We became determined to change things on our own," says Thiep, who is the chairman of the farmers' association in Long Thanh Village. "Together we decided to establish a poverty alleviation fund and now, after five years, dozens of local villagers have escaped poverty. The fund is just a small thing we could do to help our neighbourhood in difficult times."
The fund was established in 2007 and the initial money was raised by the voluntary contribution of seven members of the farmers' association. To begin with the pool contained only a small amount, but gradually the money increased as more members joined.
Thiep gives us a tour of the community and takes us to the homes of some of the people who have received loans from the pool.
Our first stop is at the newly refurbished stilt house of Nguyen Van Tuc and his family. Work has just been completed elevating the house one metre above the road surface, and Tuc is very satisfied with how the loan has helped them improve their quality of life. "In 2007, I was able to borrow VND2.7 million (US$135) from the pool to raise cows. After over two years of accumulating, we have saved enough to fix the house and the breeding facilities. Now I have three cows, two of which are going to give birth." Thanks to his herd, Tuc has been able to buy 1,000sq.m of land to grow grass for his cows and hire another area to grow vegetables.
Next we call in at the house of Pham Cong Thang and his family. A few years ago they were one of the poorest households in the community, and Thang was one of first people to receive support from the Long An pool. With a loan of only VND1 million ($50), he invested in land for growing vegetables and after three bumper crops he and his family have repaid their debt and made a significant profit.
Nguyen Van Tan is another to benefit from the initiative. Four years ago he borrowed VND4 million ($200) to raise one hundred ducks. After a little over six months, he has not only repaid the debt, but also earned an additional VND10 million ($500) to invest in another new flock.
"I immediately responded when the fund was calling for participation. It has helped my family escape from poor living conditions", Tan says. "Even though the fund does not offer much money, if it is combined with hard-work, accumulation and encouragement then it will help poor farmers like me to work efficiently. The life of families borrowing money from the fund, despite it not being well-off, has allowed many to officially overcome poverty during the last few years."
Nguyen Thanh Linh, vice chairman of the farmers' association in Long An, says: "To be honest, without the fund villagers would still have to borrow money elsewhere and the interest rate might be up to 60 per cent per month, which have to be paid back monthly. The interest rate of our poverty alleviation fund is determined by the lowest rate offered by the bank for social policies, which has profoundly contributed to eradicating poverty and forming many efficient local business models."
Despite being located next to a district centre, the number of poor households in Long An is high because it is difficult for the people to access a source of capital. The fund has provided one solution to this problem, and now has 39 permanent contributors who have raised millions of dong.
"It doesn't matter how much the money is, the affection amongst neighbourhood is more important. It is said that the good leaf always covers the broken one," says Nguyen Van Reo, vice chairman of the local farmers' association.
"After establishing the fund, we started to gather all contributors and publicised the list of households needing capital. We agreed that money will be lent to a household for year-long terms, depending on their form of business. The receiver also has to undertake to use the capital correctly and pay the interest according to the lowest rate offered by the bank for social policies. The capital observators are the group of contributors and the chairman of the farmers' association is in charge of direct observation," Reo says.
"At the end of every year we hold summation to publicise the capital and the recipient households and consider who will receive the loan the following year," he continues.
To maintain and develop the fund, after every harvesting season, members from the farmers' association launch a campaign for contributions. According to their statistics, 38 households have borrowed capital averaging about VND1.5 million ($75) each. While there used to be hundreds of poor households among 509 families in the locality, the number has decreased to only 15.
The fund established by the Long An villagers themselves is still small, but as Thiep bids us farewell he speaks of his hope for the future. "Helping each other to escape poverty allows us to contribute to the state programme of building new rural areas. We just expect to provide a small brick to build a beautiful house for the country." — VNS