USAID is spending $1 million on a project the aim of which will improve nutrition across four provinces by training women in farming practices that have higher yields, produce more nutrient-rich vegetables and require less resources.
The Women in Agriculture Network Cambodia project – covering Siem Reap, Battambang, Pursat and Kampong Thom – will also help boost women’s participation in local and regional markets in order to raise household incomes.
Women in the Kingdom are expected to raise a family while also farming, said project leader Rick Bates, a horticulture professor at Penn State University,
“That’s why it also makes sense to work with women and to help them adopt technologies that are going to make their jobs easier,” he said.
A research component of the project would help understanding of women’s role in the country’s agriculture, said US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman.
It “complements other US government-funded programs in the agriculture sector to find ways to break down the barriers that women face”, he said.
The project is in its early stages, and involves researchers from various universities, who are due to begin work over the course of 2016, and local NGOs.
The training component would see women learn about sustainable practices, like the trickle irrigation system, which drips water only in the area surrounding the plant to stop excess water use, Bates said.
If the women mainly grew seasonal rice, they would learn about which other vegetables are in demand during the course of the year and when they should be grown to best utilise their land year-round.
Participants would also learn about vegetables that are nutrient-dense so they could also use them to improve nutrition in their home, Bates said.
Nearly half or half of the population in the four provinces were found to be under acute food insecurity, according to a 2015 Council for Agriculture and Rural Development report.
Cambodia was among the countries in Southeast Asia where people consumed the least vegetables, said Stuart Brown, from the World Vegetable Center, which will provide nutrition training as part of the project.
“The goal is to have an impact over the long period to reduce stunted children and to introduce households to vegetables and nutrition,” he said.
But nutrition expert Dr Frank Wieringa said encouraging women to grow vegetables wasn’t enough. “It’s not really about growing them, it’s about cooking them,” he said.
Women also needed more time to prepare meals and better diets that included meats, such as fish and chicken, Wieringa said.