Banking on buffaloes: Met’s story

In the field article written on the 14 Feb 2012

Photo: Dustin Barter/OxfamAUS

Meet Yuh Met. An agricultural labourer and former soldier, Met (52) and his family live in Kandek village, Cambodia. They were among the first in their village to benefit from Oxfam’s buffalo bank program and, since receiving their gentle giant, they’ve gradually been able to turn their lives around.

Before the buffalo

Yuh Met with his wife Hun Vey and his youngest son, Soy Lak. Photo: Dustin Barter/OxfamAUS

Met will never forget what life was like before he got a buffalo. “We didn’t have money to send our children to school regularly,” he recalls. “We didn’t even have enough money for clothes. I needed to take some children to help me work … We had no medication and we were very poor. This led to three children dying.”

To make matters worse, the family was ostracised because of their poverty. “Two years ago, nobody communicated with us,” Met says. “But since getting the buffalo, other villagers are friendlier and now communicate with us.”

No wonder Met now feels “so happy because of the buffalo.” Here, he tells his story in his own words.

One of the poorest families in the village

Since 1979 to 2010, I never had a buffalo. I would rent a buffalo and provide my labour for other families … every year. Three people’s labourwas worth two buffaloes and one person for ploughing. Renting two buffaloes costs 600kg of rice.

Sometimes I wouldn’t have finished ploughing and the owner would take the buffalo back. Then I would need to rent another buffalo. I had an arrangement where I could use a buffalo, if I let people use one plot of my land (we have two hectares of land divided into two places).

Another problem was the season for planting. Before, I would plant rice late in the season because I had to work for other people first. Sometimes, if I got 50kg of rice, I would have to give 25kg to the buffalo owners. Then we wouldn’t have enough food to eat and I would need to take the children out of school to do work. We had food shortages most of the time — maybe eight months per year.

I dreamed I could have [my own] buffalo, but could never afford one. Then Oxfam came and gave us a buffalo because we were one of the poorest families in the village. I was very happy.

Photo: John Sones/OxfamAUS

The buffalo effect

Now our livelihood is much better. We use the buffalo for farming and can plant rice at the right time. If the buffalo gets sick, the vet helps out. The buffalo is very healthy. I take care of it every day; I love it like a family member … Its name is Mekrow (bull in Khmer). We [also] use the buffalo to transport wood, rice, cassava and other things.

I only rent one buffalo and no longer labour for others because we have the buffalo from Oxfam. When the buffalo has a baby, we’ll give the mother back to the buffalo bank. Now, we don’t have to pay the rental fee (previously 600kgs of rice for two buffaloes). We just pay 50,000 Riel (US$12.50) a year to the buffalo bank … having no rental fee for the buffalo is a big benefit.

My rice yield will increase — I will now get more than 30 bags. This year, I already have 10 bags of rice, whereas before I had just three bags at this stage [of the last season]. This is because we can plant rice at the right time early in the season.

With more rice, my family is much healthier and better off. Before, [they] got sick because we had no money, but now we can see a doctor and won’t die. I can support my youngest child to go to school. We can buy books and pens. Before, we couldn’t even buy pens.

When we had no resources … we just farmed (for subsistence). Now I can do other things. With my spare time, I clear land, cut and sell wood, and labour for other people. I also work more on my fields and catch fish for eating.

A better future

We don’t worry about feeding ourselves and know we’ll have a better future. The money we earn from our buffalo, we can save and spend on our needs. When we have enough food to eat, I want to build a new house and then buy a boat and rice mill.

For poor people, a buffalo is very important to improve our lives. When Oxfam gave us a buffalo, we felt very happy … we have a better livelihood. We take care of it and after it has a baby, others can benefit.

Find out more

So simple, yet so ingenious! Learn how the buffalo bank works.

Want more Cambodian families to experience the ‘buffalo effect’? Please donate to our Buffalo Bank Appeal.