How crickets are jump-starting community change in Cambodia

Fresh hope has sprung from an unexpected source in rural Cambodia – cricket farming. While following an exciting church and community initiative, Pastor Sounkimsin has set up small cricket farming businesses to transform his own livelihood and those of his wider community.

Grub’s up: edible insects are a common part of people’s diets in South-East Asia. Photo: Emma Brown

‘Church and community are serving each other and sharing cricket eggs with those who don’t have enough money to buy [them]’

Anyone for crickets?

Deep-fried crickets or ‘cheugnreut’ are a popular snack across South-East Asia. Seasoned and dressed with chilli and spring onion, you can buy a can full of crickets from roadside vendors. Many Cambodians love their exceptional taste and, with their high protein content, they are a cheaper and more eco-friendly alternative to meat. Cricket raising also presents an excellent small business opportunity. In January, I had the opportunity to visit Tearfund’s work in the rural village of Toloeung, near the Vietnamese border. Having spent the last year developing e-learning materials for church and community development, I was excited to see it in action for the first time. Little did I know that this would mean ‘meeting’ thousands of bugs! Once I’d got over my initial shock, I became fascinated by these little creatures as Pastor Sounkimsin shared the story of how they had helped build a bridge between church and community.

Building bridges

Pastor Sounkimsin has been working with Tearfund’s partner, International Cooperation Cambodia (ICC), to carry out Umoja. Umoja is an initiative that inspires and equips local people with a vision for determining their own future. It helps local churches and communities build on the resources and skills they already have. Successful projects in the past have included chicken raising and fish farming. 

An important feature of Umoja is the support network that is established for facilitators to learn from one another. It was at a meeting of facilitators that Pastor Sounkimsin heard about cricket raising from another pastor. On learning how successful the enterprise had been in other regions of Cambodia, he took the idea and applied it to his own community.

Watch this short video about the amazing effect that raising crickets and other projects have had on the lives of people in Toloeung.

BUg business

Pastor Sounkimsin showed us the cricket shed that he had built beside his house. He explained how he sourced cricket eggs and raised the crickets in containers laid with cardboard cartons. When the crickets are fully grown, he soaks them in salt water to kill them. Then he packs the crickets and sells them locally and across the Vietnamese border for 3 USD per kilogram, earning him a steady profit. 

He explained how others in his community saw the success of his enterprise and wanted to be involved. Pastor Sounkimsin shared his skills and knowledge with the community and, with his support, they have set up 22 cricket farms in his village, and another 38 in neighbouring villages.

Pontha (left), a local cricket farmer, with Pastor Sounkimsin. Photo: Emma Brown

Transformed relationships

Umoja has not only provided new livelihoods in this community, it has also transformed relationships. Pastor Sounkimsin explained how, historically, relations between his church members and other Buddhist members of the community had been strained. If he or his church family made a complaint to the authorities, nobody would help them. 

However, Pastor Sounkimsin, who has a quiet humility and determined character, resolved to bring about positive change in his village. He recognised that the roads through Toloeung were poor, making it impossible to travel and transport goods in the rainy season. 

With the support of the village leader, Pastor Sounkimsin activated local resources and, together as a community, they were able to reinforce the corners of the road where the verges were weak and washed away. This small success sparked greater collaboration as they then paved the central crossroads and, little by little, the rest of the road. To date, they have rebuilt over 1.5km of the road. 

Now Pastor Sounkimsin and his church are respected within the local community. When people in the community have an issue they go to him for advice. He says: ‘We now have a reputation in the village where we are known as the Jesus people who did what they said they would do.’ In this rural community, the vision of Umoja has seen old relationships restored, livelihoods rebuilt and the beginnings of a flourishing trade in crickets.

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Emma Brown
Emma Brown is E-Learning Manager at Tearfund: