Last week I went to Battambang (the capital city of a North-western province of Cambodia, bordering Thailand) for a series of VSO meetings about the Livelihoods Programme.
As if the fact that there were a variety of nationalities speaking differently accented English mixed with Khmer and a little Fillipino and French at times too weren’t enough to frazzle my brain, I discovered that VSO subscribe heavily to the school of WLA.
For those of you that are unaware WLA is an acronym of my own making. Can you guess what it might stand for?
Yes, that’s right – WLA stands for We Love Acronyms!
Throughout every presentation, brainstorm, roundtable discussion and all other interactions, pesky little acronyms reared their ugly heads making it almost impossible for me to follow the conversation at times.
First off we had IMA4P (pronounced IMAP) which is the main project that forms part of the Livelihoods programme. This stands for Improving Market Access for the Poor and is mainly focused on improving the value chain for small scale rice farmers in the region. We are achieving this by supporting the formation and development of ACs.
Nope, that’s not short for air conditioners, in this case it stands for agricultural cooperatives, the groups formed of a combination of local farmers and the millers etc needed to turn rice into a saleable commodity which allow for collective bargaining and therefore better prices.
And then we start to discuss MFI. Thankfully these ones don’t come with an annoying advert on commercial television warning us constantly that ‘the sale will end soon’ and we can ‘buy now, pay later’. Nope, these MFIs are the micro finance institutions who will lend money to the small scale farmers and ACs that the banks won’t touch, but sadly at much higher, and therefore less attractive, rates of interest.
There were further acronyms to describe the partners (existing and potential), the funders (MFIs and donor organisations), the government players (provincial and central) along with acronyms to describe parts of the production process, so many so in fact that I lost count when I hit the 25 mark during day 2 of the event.
Suffice to say, growing, processing and selling rice is a pretty complex process here in Cambodia, involving, it would seem, all 26 letters of the alphabet (plus a couple of numbers to boot).
(Pictures below are taken at a member of one of IMA4Ps ACs land. The guy in the fancy patterned shirt with his trousers rolled up is the chairman of the AC who just happened to be helping with rice planting as we arrived!?!?!?!!?)