Can agroforestry help Cambodia become healthier and wealthier?
Cambodia’s food security and rural livelihoods are under pressure from a range of influences. Researchers are keen to explore the role agroforestry can play in meeting the challenges
By Prasit Wangpakapattanawong
‘Cambodia is one of the worst countries for poverty and hunger among eastern Asian nations’, stated Prof Kim Gun-Hee of the Department of Food and Nutrition at Seoul’s Duksung Women’s University in the Republic of Korea.
She was speaking at a workshop titled, Education and Research for Improving Nutritional Status, at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
‘The rate of poverty decreased from 39% in 1970 to 30% in 2007, however, it’s still 39% in rural areas, particularly concentrated in the mountainous areas of Cambodia where minorities live’.
At the same workshop, Mr Eng Chheanghong stated that Cambodia has ‘the highest prevalence of stunted children in Southeast Asia, which is the thirteenth highest in the world. Seventy-six percent of children do not receive a minimum acceptable diet’.
Mr Eng is a recent master’s graduate from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). His presentation was based on his thesis, ‘Food and nutrition security of farming households with 2-to-5 year-old children as influenced by selected governance factors in Chet Borei district, Kratie province, Cambodia’. He pursued his degree at UPLB under the Southeast Asia Upland Agriculture Fellowships program funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. In rural areas, he pointed out, food and nutrition security and livelihoods are intricately linked to farming practices.
In relation to this, in my role as the World Agroforestry Centre Thailand country coordinator, I presented information about our work titled, ‘Agroecology, food security, and nutrition in the highlands of Thailand’. This project is developing and testing affordable and sustainable nutrition-sensitive agricultural practices that improve nutrition and food security, engage multiple stakeholders to promote learning and understanding, and facilitate broad adoption of solutions, including through policies.
Shortly, related research will likely be carried out in Cambodia in three provinces in the northeast—Mondukiri, Ratanakiri and Steung Treng—that are part of the ‘Development Triangle’ of the Mekong Action Area of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics), which is led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. The program’s ultimate goal is for smallholders to have ‘better livelihoods in a sustainable environment’.
The first stakeholders’ meeting for the Humidtropics’ research will be held in June 2015, probably in Ratanakiri province, with international—such as the World Agroforestry Centre, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT/International Centre for Tropical Agriculture) and International Livestock Research Institute—and national partners, such as Centre d’Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC/Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture) and the Royal University of Agriculture, Phnom Penh.
There are many gaps in agroforestry research for development in Cambodia but the World Agroforestry Centre is yet to carry out any major activities. From my initial observations, I argue that filling those gaps could begin with mapping agroforestry systems; something that would best be done regionally and include Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. To facilitate this, we have begun explaining the need to potential investors.
One of the first steps in this was a seminar titled, Greater Mekong Sub-region Seminar on Climate Change and Sustainable Natural Resources Management, which led to the establishment of Thai and upper ASEAN research networks on climate change. The seminar was organized by the World Agroforestry Centre Thailand and Chiang Mai University, which have been collaborating since 2009 on research and education in natural resources management under the rubric of the Knowledge Support Center for the Greater Mekong Sub-region.
Once the basic research on agroforestry mapping is completed, there are several methods and tools developed by the World Agroforestry Centre—for example, Forest, Agroforest, Low-value Landscape or Wasteland?, Land-use Planning for Low-Emissions Development Strategies and Rapid Land Tenure Assessment—that can be applied in Cambodia.
The need for more research has been recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which stressed the importance of new policies to promote agroforestry in Cambodia, and Dr Delia Catacutan, World Agroforestry Centre Viet Nam country coordinator, who has called for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to develop an agroforestry policy.
The World Agroforestry Centre Thailand is now discussing with CEDAC, CIAT, HealthBridge Foundation of Canada, Cambodia’s Royal University of Agriculture and Duksung Women’s University to formulate more ideas to tackle food security through expansion of tree-based, integrated farming systems in Mondukiri and Ratanakiri provinces. Our hope is that much more agroforestry-related research can be conducted, supported by committed investors, to improve the livelihoods and environments of smallholding farmers.
Edited by Robert Finlayson
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