Acclimatising to food favourites from the fringes

Fish amok features on the cover of Adaptive Farms, Resilient Tables.
Fish amok features on the cover of Adaptive Farms, Resilient Tables. Pha Lina

Acclimatising to food favourites from the fringes

The dangers of climate change are often presented as abstract notions of an uninhabitable world plagued by tricky weather and rising sea-levels, but what about a world without fish amok?

A cookbook featuring recipes from Cambodia and five other countries released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in March, and made available for download last month, seeks to raise awareness on the links between food security and climate change.

“As the world gets hotter and rainfall more erratic, the types and availability of ingredients for daily meals are changing,” the introduction of Adaptive Farms, Resilient Tables reads.

Featuring 19 recipes for starters, entrees and sweet dishes from Cambodia, Cabo Verde, Haiti, Mali, Niger and Sudan, the book aims to highlight how the changing climate threatens the resilience of smallholder households and imperils the ability to cook iconic national dishes.

The book “speaks to an intimate human experience, which is food”, says UNDP Country Director Nick Beresford. “The choice [of recipes] is very clear because we reached an agreement from the six countries that each dish is made from ingredients [that are] easily affordable [and] accessible for even common farmers,” says Dara Rat Moni Ung, a former policy adviser to the project who selected the Cambodian recipes.

The book also highlights food diversification, drip irrigation and other climate change resilience programmes, and was spearheaded by UNDP in tandem with the Canadian government and the Global Environment Facility. For Beresford, the relevance to Cambodia could not be clearer, as low crop diversity and shifting rain patterns “can be catastrophic economically” for farmers.

To that aim, the UNDP focused their projects on families with three to six months of food insecurity in provinces susceptible to drought.

“To complement the food that they lack – they go to the jungle, they migrate to the city – this is the way people live,” says Ung. “We try to mobilise those farmers into groups and provide them with water infrastructure,” he adds, such as solar pumps, wind pumps and irrigation systems.

Pinreak Suos, who managed the programme which ran from 2010-2015, says that indeed, under the test of the 2015-2016 El Niño event and drought – the worst since 1979 – the programme proved effective. “I did the follow up myself in Preah Vihear. Not only were they less affected, but they sold water to neighbouring villagers.”

But diversification away from rice – when Cambodians consume 400 grams of rice per day – is both a food security and economic issue. With the country importing some 70 percent of its vegetables, greater diversity of agricultural production – even on a household scale, the UNDP maintains – can make a difference for farmers.

To that end, the cookbook, which features the signature Cambodian dishes samla kako, fish amok and num ansorm, is meant to create a sense of “shared experience” between the reader and those affected by climate change.

“It’s a way of connecting out with a wider audience from a higher income country,” Beresford adds.

For now, the book is English, but the UNDP office in the Kingdom plans to translate the Cambodia-related chapters into Khmer in the coming months and make them publicly available.

Adaptive Farms, Resilient Tables can be downloaded for free here.

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