The Cambodian government and the World Food Programme (WFP) launched an initiative on July 14 aimed at improving nutrition in the Kingdom as malnutrition and micronutrient-deficiencies are lingering burdens affecting a significant percentage of the population.

In a press release, the WFP said that today saw the launch of the SUN Business Network Cambodia (SBN), a “bold new programme” which it said brings together some of the most forward-thinking private businesses in the food sector to accelerate progress in nutrition across the country.

The network has been established by the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) with support from the WFP to encourage collaboration and mutual support among the private sector, business associations, government, civil society and Cambodia’s development partners to sustainably contribute to healthy diets and practices.

Twenty businesses have already signed up to the SBN as founding members.

The press release added that despite Cambodia’s economic gains in recent years, malnutrition is still harming the population with 10 per cent of children under five years old suffering from wasting and 32 per cent suffering from stunted growth as recently as 2014.

“We’re proud of the progress made in the last decade in improving nutrition, especially for women and children,” said CARD secretary-general Sok Silo.

He added that Cambodian businesses have an indispensable role in improving the quality of the food available to Cambodians. He hoped that the launch of SBN would show how much businesses value that role.

WFP country director Claire Conan said she is grateful that the government established this network and that she looks forward to working with its members.

“We believe that improving the nutritional content of food products is a win-win for the consumer and the business since offering improved nutrition creates opportunities for businesses to differentiate themselves and increase sales and profits,” she said.

Leang Leng, the owner of an eponymous fish and soy sauce producer and one of SBN founding members, said: “I believe the SBN will generate lots of new ideas and connections while educating the public about the importance of nutrition. This will generate higher demand.”

According to the press release, the establishment of the SBN is a major new milestone for the country towards its goal of eliminating malnutrition in Cambodia by 2030 because it harnesses the crucial role that the private sector can play in improving nutrition while contributing to sustainable economic development.

Over 100 participants from the government, WFP and businesses attended the launch event to discuss how they can work together to improve nutrition in the Kingdom.

Part of the discussion centred on the “five strategic pillars of the SBN vision”, a plan that entails developing a strong SBN brand, increasing nutrition awareness and demand, increasing the supply of nutritious foods and fortified products, strengthening the enabling environment for improved nutrition and promoting health and nutrition in communities and the workplace.