Rice Accounting 101 in Rural Cambodia
Sophisticated income statements and balance sheets are the standard tools used by global corporates to demonstrate their year-over-year growth and net change in assets and liabilities. I saw my fair share of SEC sanctioned 10K annual and 10Q quarterly financial reports while working in corporate banking in New York City, but from where I stand now as a Kiva Fellow in my third month in the field, these accounting instruments are of no use to Kiva entrepreneurs in rural Cambodia, many of whom cannot read or write.
When I interview Kiva borrowers in the agriculture sector (which fits the description for the majority of AMK’s clients in Cambodia), I try to get a sense of how their crops are doing and if they are satisfied with the most recent harvest. Some borrowers cultivate rice solely for personal consumption while others grow to sell. When entrepreneurs have multiple businesses (which many of them do), the decision to sell or keep the rice they grow is often a function of the success of their harvest. If a farmer lives near a good irrigation source they can harvest rice twice a year during both the rainy and the dry season, but otherwise rainy season is the only option since rice cultivation is heavily dependent on the weather.
Most farmers I speak with can quickly tell me the market price they can get for one kilogram of rice: typically about 800 Riel (20 cents USD). When I ask borrowers how many kilograms of rice they recently harvested, however, I get a variety of answers, and seldom are they numerical. The general response trend is that year over year growth is described in terms of “better or worse.” While visiting Svay Village in the Kandal Province of Cambodia yesterday I encountered the most enduring and perhaps practical explanation yet of how one entrepreneur measures her yearly “profit.” Check out this video to see my rice accounting 101 tutorial:'
Can a line drawn semi annually inside a giant bin marking the height of a rice harvest really provide accurate data? For a hardworking family living in the in Svay Village of rural Cambodia the answer is yes, accurate enough. If this seasons harvest exceeds last seasons harvest and last seasons harvest was enough to feed the family, then some of the excess yield can be sold to bring in additional income for the family.
Katie Davis is currently serving as a Kiva Fellow (KF7) at Angkor Microfinance Kampuchea (AMK) based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia./>