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Malnutrition affecting Cambodia’s development

A 50 per cent stunting rate among Cambodian children contributed to lower-skilled labour and slower economic development for the Kingdom, a senior government economist said yesterday at a workshop on food security.

Stunted growth as a result of malnutrition led to ineffective learning among children and low work productivity among adults, Mey Kalyan, a senior adviser on the Supreme National Economic Council, said.

Stunting was pervasive, and not only among poor families, he said.

The condition also resulted in a smaller stature and early death.

“Being small is not special to Cambodian DNA. We can improve,” he said in a report.

Relieving the country of the “vicious cycle” of malnutrition could raise Cambodia’s gross domestic product by up to three per cent, Mey Kalyan said, citing reports by other economists.

While Asian Development Bank traditionally focuses on gaps between education and the work force, the bank’s 2012 outlook for Cambodia specifically mentioned Cambodia’s nutrition shortfall as a threat to developing a skilled labour force.

“Normally, when you think of skill development, you think of vocational training. But [nutrition] is actually a critical part of this,” ADB deputy country director Peter Brimble said yesterday. “It’s how wide you want to spread your net when you’re talking about skills.”

Along with boosts throughout the education sector, the ADB report said improvements in early childhood nutrition could provide a firmer base for skill training.

Malnutrition and stunting was at the base of a dour assessment of Cambodian education and labour.

About 63 per cent of youth are out of school, and 93 per cent don’t complete secondary school, Mey Kalyan said.

“Because of these factors, our labour forces are not productive and competitive,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Weinland at



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