While the number of Cambodian children under the age of 5 suffering from stunted growth due to malnutrition has dropped from 40 to 32 per cent since 2010, children in Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces remain at high risk, according to data revealed yesterday by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Over the past two years, the number of children exhibiting symptoms of wasting and stunting has actually increased in these regions, the new data shows.
FAO and the MALIS project convened yesterday to address how to improve food security in these especially vulnerable provinces. Preah Vihear and Stung Treng have the highest rate of malnutrition in the country, where 56.4 per cent of children suffer the effects of stunting and 36.8 per cent were underweight, FAO representative Nina Brandstrup said.
“In 2014, we observed that the rate of stunted height declined, but the rate of underweight children had increased in Oddar Meanchey province and… in Preah Vihear province. The situation has become worse,” she said.
The FAO, together with Germany’s Justus-Liebig University Giessen and the Agriculture Ministry, unveiled the data yesterday at a seminar focused on how best to combat malnutrition by improving food security, adequate food supply and education.
The root of malnutrition goes beyond the simple volume of food consumed, said Ly Kongry, a former nutrition expert for the Malis Project.
“The majority of mothers do not feed their babies and children a variety of nutritious foods – they just feed them gruel, which lacks the nutrition [needed] for children’s physical growth and health,” she explained, while adding that “the amount of food is also not enough”.
Diets that contain sufficient caloric intake but are devoid of adequate vitamins and minerals – the cause of a phenomenon known as “hidden hunger” – can severely impede mental development in addition to causing telltale physical markers like stunting, according to Gates Foundation research.
EU representative Fiona Ramsey also emphasised the importance proper nutrition during the first two and a half years (or 1,000 days) of childhood.
“If they do not get nutritious foods during that period, they will face difficulties in [their ability to learn] and study,” she said, a situation that will ultimately “weaken the national economy”.
A 2014 report from the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that malnutrition costs Cambodia more than $400 million annually and contributes to the deaths of 6,000 children each year.
Ty Sokun, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, yesterday added that it is common for people to only eat what they produce and urged a collaboration with agricultural partners – NGOs and the Ministries of Health and Education – to teach villagers more advanced farming techniques.
“We know we need to [improve] agricultural productivity, [and] will do whatever to guarantee that the Cambodian people have food security and enough nutritious food.”