The Bunong are very loyal. When they say they will borrow money for something, they use it for that.
Each province has its own peculiarities. For Khun Doen, ACLEDA Bank’s Mondulkiri branch manager, just reaching potential clients in the more remote parts of the country is a challenge.
“It’s hard to find the clients from mountain to mountain,” he says. “We are successful due to the quality and dedication of our staff.”
His staff must be doing something right. ACLEDA Bank only established itself in Mondulkiri Province in 2006 and the following year it numbered only 700 clients across the province. Now this has grown to 1,600, with just over $4 million being loaned to clients last year.
Part of this success is due to word of mouth.
“Our clients promote our services to other people, so the loans increase from year to year,” says Khun Doen. “They tell one another about the quality of our bank.”
Lack of infrastructure was the reason for ACLEDA’s late start in the remote north eastern province.
“In 2004 the road to Mondulkiri was not so good and everyone came here by plane,” says Khun Doen. “By 2006 we had a difficult road. It took at least two days to get here from Phnom Penh. Now we have a good road and it is easy to come to Mondulkiri.”
The ethnic Bunong village of Chamkar Te is a few kilometres outside of Sen Monorom. The road leading to it was built only four months ago.
“It used to be really hard to get here,” says Mach Theara, ACLEDA Bank credit officer. “The journey was risky.”
According to Khun Doen, about 20 percent of the bank’s loans are to the province’s large minority population. Most of these loans are for agriculture. Mach Theara has about 20 to 30 ethnic Bunong clients.
“The Bunong are very loyal,” says Mach Theara. “When they say they will borrow money for something, they use the money for that. They stick to their plan.”
Before the road was built it was difficult to reach the village, but even more difficult to persuade farmers to take out a loan.
“At first it was difficult to explain to clients to use the bank services, such as loans because they were afraid that they would lose their land left by their ancestors,” he says.
Krot Liv, 49, and his wife Trang Savoeun, 43, are ethnic Bunong. They are also Mach Theara’s clients. Deciding to take out a loan from the bank was a major step for the couple.
“We didn’t know how to borrow money,” says Trang Savoeun. “We just followed the tradition.”
The couple used to grow rice, but last year turned to cassava. They used the $2,000 they borrowed from ACLEDA Bank to hire workers for clearing land so they could expand their plantation to two hectares. Despite making a loss this year, Krot Liv is unconcerned.
“I hope that next year will be easier as we have done everything already, we just need to plant the trees,” he says. Still, the couple have already paid back half of their loan.
So long as next year’s crop proves successful, Krot Liv will consider taking out a further loan from the bank.
“If I can expand my plantation more, I can dare to borrow more money,” he says. “If I make the effort it can be good.”
TRANSLATION BY RANN REUY