Ensuring Household Food and Nutrition Security in Asia
2 December 2012
Despite gains in fighting poverty, a third of Cambodia’s population still lives below the poverty line and none more affected than the country’s rural poor, many of whom face seasonal food shortages each year.
“Poverty remains a major concern,” said a report, titled Scoping Study on Food Security and Nutrition in Cambodia prepared by STAR Kampuchea.
“Poverty in Cambodia is closely associated with lack of food security and nutrition,” said the report which was commissioned by the Asian Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition (AAAHM) and Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC).
The World Food Program (WFP), in its report on Cambodia, noted that as the country emerged from decades of civil conflict, poverty rate has also decreased from 35 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2007. Still, WFP said poverty rate as of 2010 is at still at 25.8 percent, citing government data.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, said although the country is rich in natural resources, decades of war and internal conflict have left the Southeast Asian country one of the world’s poorest. “The legacy of strife includes social and economic scars. Many millions of land mines were sowed throughout the countryside, where millions of them still lie, hidden and unexploded. Mines are an enduring menace to the eight out of ten Cambodians who live in rural areas, and they are an obstacle to agricultural development.”
Overview of food and nutrition status
IFAD said two thirds of the country’s 1.6 million rural households face seasonal food shortages each year.
Nationally, the scoping study said that 23 percent of the population, or three million people, were food-deprived in 2003-2004, consuming less than the minimum daily energy requirement of 1715 kcal/day.
In 2005, the paper said more than 37 percent or 630,000 of Cambodian children under the age of 5 suffered from chronic malnutrition (stunting), while 36 percent of the children under the age of 5 were underweight, and 7 percent were acutely malnourished. It added that more than 60 percent of the children under the age of 2 suffered from anemia. Malnutrition is also a major cause of the high level of maternal and infant mortality, the paper said.
“The social and economic costs of malnutrition in the Cambodian population are high. Social costs include damage to individual health and physiological development, limiting the overall human potential of the malnourished and leading to high levels of suffering, debilitation and premature death.
“Economic costs include limitations on the development of the economy resulting from lower educational achievement, higher health costs, lower labor force quality and increased vulnerability to the impacts of natural hazards.”
IFAD said poverty rates are highest in upland areas. The poorest people live in the districts close to the borders with Thailand and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in the north and north-east, and with Vietnam in the east, it said. Poverty is less severe in the districts around Tonle Sap Lake and those in the Mekong River basin in the south, it added.
The poorest people are isolated, IFAD added. They live in remote villages, far from basic social services and facilities. “The pressures of a fast-growing population contribute to poverty. Because of a lack of education and skills training, people have inadequate employment opportunities and low capabilities. They are insecure, excluded and vulnerable. They have limited access to natural resources. Poor health, lack of education, poor infrastructure and low productivity lead to deeper poverty. The cycle of poverty, ill health and high health care expenditure cripples poor Cambodian families economically,” IFAD also said.
WFP said while Cambodia produces a surplus of paddy rice for export, household access to sufficient and nutritious food remains a serious challenge. “This is due to high poverty rates and limited social protection coverage for the poor and vulnerable households, notably those exposed to natural disasters such as flooding and droughts.”
Overview of food and nutrition policies and programs
Since Cambodia is largely dependent on agriculture, which accounts 90 percent of its gross domestic product and employs approximately 80 percent of the workforce, its government has a number of policies focused on agriculture development.
The government is thus focused on improving agricultural productivity and diversity, land reform and mind clearing, as well as fisheries and forestry reforms. According to the paper, policies and programs identified for the sector include:
• Improving soil fertility and land use plan;
• Fighting land degradation and desertification;
• Strengthening research on and development of crop seeds and crop production technologies;
• Using high-quality and high-yielding crop varieties/seeds;
• Promoting crop intensification and diversification;
• Strengthening and expanding agricultural extension structure and system through monitoring and evaluation on effectiveness of the agricultural extension works;
• Enhancing the capacity of agricultural extension officers and village-based agricultural extension workers through education and training on agricultural extension methodologies;
• Strengthening and developing farmer organizations and agricultural communities;
• Improving the structure, roles and responsibilities of concerned ministries in order to ensure sustainable agricultural extension;
• Strengthening research and development on agricultural machinery techniques and agricultural tools;
• Expanding the development and application of agricultural machineries and tools;
• Improving post-harvest preservation technologies;
• Improving rice varieties to become resistant to drought, flood, and pests; tools for seeding, weeding, and tools for harvesting peanut grains;
• Developing storage and packaging facilities for agricultural products; among others.
The paper said that since 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry also drafted close to 20 laws and regulations in order to promote agricultural production in the country. These include:
• the Law on Agricultural Insecticides and Agricultural Materials;
• Law on Agricultural Communities;
• Law on Agricultural Management and Transfer of Agricultural Technology;
• Law on Animal Production and Animal Health;
• Law on Rubber;
• Law on Plant Protection;
• Law on Agricultural Product Quality and Safety;
• Law on Agricultural Land Management;
• Sub-Decree on Contractual Agricultural Production;
• Sub-Decree on Agricultural Machinery Management and Agricultural Tools;
• Sub-Decree on Establishment of National Forest Development Fund and Organization and Functioning of National Forest Development Committee;
• Sub-Decree on Certificate of Agricultural Product Quality and Safety;
• Sub-Decree on Procedures on the Establishment or Dissolving of Controlled
• Sub-Decree on Boundaries of Fishing Areas;
• Sub-Decree on the Legal Procedures on Investments, Public Bidding, Contractual Leasing and Payment of Fishing Fees;
• Sub-Decree on Uniform, Sign and Ranks of Forestry Administration Officers; and
• National Policy on Rubber.
The paper said the food crisis in 2007-2008 also affected government’s agriculture policy. “The increase in prices of rice, maize, soybean, cassava and rubber provides further incentives to the implementation of agricultural diversification policy,” it said, citing the national strategic plan.
As such the Cambodian government will continue to prioritize increasing agricultural productivity and diversification as well as promoting agro-industries, the paper said. And to further increase production, the paper said government wants to shift “from extension of cultivated area to intensive farming on existing land … to increase production, employment, and rural income, and ensure food security as well as to increase export of agricultural products, especially finished goods, in particular, rice.”
The paper said the government also wants to expand technical and agricultural extension services by rolling them out to the district level and creating linkages with a community level volunteer network as well as with the agricultural services being provided within the framework of various development projects. It said the government will foster partnership between small land holders and large-scale agricultural farms or corporations, and between economic and social land concessionaires, especially those involved in agro-industries such as rubber plantation in accordance with the strategic plan for the development of rubber, cashew, and sugarcane.
The government will also encourage multi-purpose farms in order to increase productivity in animal husbandry and multi-crops farming through integrated farming.
Moreover, the government will create an enabling environment to attract private investors, domestic and foreign, the paper said.
Government also welcomes the contribution from NGOs to ensure the transfer of know-how and new technology to farmers in regard to crop farming and animal rearing, it said.
Government will further strive toward linking farmers to the regional and global agricultural markets by creating necessary institutional mechanism and through efforts to make the quality of agricultural products conform with international standards.
The paper said part of Cambodia’s effort to be food secure is to comply with international agreements and programs relating to food security. It cited initiatives undertaken by various stakeholders to improve data collection and information campaign, including participating in national workshops and programs backed by agencies like the FAO and the European Union, UNICEF, among others.
FAO for instance initiated a program, with funding from EU, providing quality inputs and training to 50,000 food insecure farming families so they can grow more food and productivity. The 24-month project was signed by the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO and the EU Delegation in 2008, the UN agency said.
Other FAO programs include the following:
– helping around 24,000 households plant vegetable gardens and engage in small-scale aquaculture activities as a way to diversify production;
– promoting nutrition education and improving feeding practices based on local foods among women and children given Cambodia’s high rate of malnutrition;
– financing the training of farmers in soil fertility management and low-input, environmentally friendly technologies such as Conservation Agriculture and Integrated Pest Management;
– helping train farmers on disaster risk mitigation and preparedness so they are better equipped to deal with droughts and floods in the future;
– providing equipment and storage facilities, as well as training in proper drying and storing techniques, to at least 5 400 households to stem seed and food losses;
– training some 75 000 households in water management in an effort to increase the area under cultivation as well as the number of crops grown per year;
– providing vocational training to farmers to help boost employment opportunities by exploring the creation of agro-processing enterprises and working to ensure that especially vulnerable farmers have access to affordable credit schemes.
The scoping study said government’s National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) is also among programs aimed at improving the country’s food security. “The NSPS envisions that all Cambodians, especially the poor and vulnerable, will benefit from improved social safety nets and social security as an integral part of a sustainable, affordable and effective national social protection system,” the paper said.
“The main goal of the NSPS is that poor and vulnerable Cambodians will be increasingly protected against chronic poverty and hunger.”
Within the framework set in place for working towards 2015, the NSPS will link existing programs by establishing systematic and integrated objectives to enable improved service delivery for the poor and vulnerable, protection from poverty and the promotion of investments in human capital, the paper said. To achieve this, the NSPS entails several strategic steps:
– Promote the development of a mix of programs that cover both chronic and transient poverty as well as hunger and that also help promote human capital.
– Strengthen the coordination, scaling-up and harmonization mechanisms of current programmers to ensure they match the root causes of vulnerability;
– Evaluate and, if necessary, improve the current IDPoor programme (the mechanism to identify poor households);
– Scale up coverage of ongoing interventions and improve efficiency and effectiveness;
– Pilot, evaluate and scale up new programs based on effectiveness and sustainability to fill the gaps in existing social protection programs.
To achieve this, the NSPS is targeting the following:
– for the poor and vulnerable to receive support, including food, sanitation, water and shelter, etc., to meet their basic needs in times of emergency and crisis.
– for the poor and vulnerable children and mothers to benefit from social safety nets to reduce poverty and food insecurity and enhance the development of human capital by improving nutrition, maternal and child health, promoting education and eliminating child labour, especially its worst forms.
– for the working-age poor and vulnerable to benefit from work opportunities to secure income, food and livelihoods, while contributing to the creation of sustainable physical and social infrastructure assets.
– for the poor and vulnerable to have effective access to affordable quality health care and financial protection in case of illness.
– for the special vulnerable groups, including orphans, the elderly, single women with children, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, patients of TB and other chronic illness, etc., to receive income, in-kind and psychosocial support and adequate social care.
Scoping Study on Food Security and Nutrition in Cambodia. Prepared for the Asian Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition (AAAHM) and Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian
Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC)
Cambodia brief. FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices.
Rural poverty in Cambodia. IFAD.
Cambodia report. World Food Program. http://www.wfp.org/countries/cambodia/overview