About the Author: Chris Hegadorn serves as Alternate Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome. Chris joined six other Permanent Representatives on the first-ever FAO-organized field trip for member state representatives to examine operations of UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Cambodia country office and its regional office in Bangkok, Thailand. Below are some of his observations from the visit to Cambodia from January 24-25, 2011.
What is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) doing in Cambodia, a country wracked by decades of war and devastation, to create sustainable food and nutrition security for its 14 million citizens (65 percent of whom are under the age of 24)? For starters, it is partnering with the Government of Cambodia, other UN funds and programs (UNDP, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and others), and major donors -- including the United States, Australia, the European Commission, and Japan to invest in Cambodia's agricultural development and food security.
While at first glance it may look lush and fertile, Cambodia's agricultural development challenges are enormous: only 22 percent of its land is arable, crop productivity rates are low, illiteracy and poverty rates are high, rural roads and irrigation infrastructure are limited, and market infrastructure is weak. Working to overcome Cambodia's food security challenges for its young and fast-growing population (25 percent of whom fall below the poverty line of less than $1.25 of income per day), FAO has been working on a broad spectrum of issues including strategic agriculture policy support, animal/plant health, fisheries, forestry, natural resource management, and many others.
FAO is a key development partner for the Government of Cambodia in developing national policy frameworks for agriculture, and is Co-Facilitator of an important 'Technical Working Group' on Agriculture and Water (one of 19 TWGs that bring together senior government officials and major donors around key sectors). Capacity building for national and provincial governments is crucial to this work. During the coming year, Cambodia has requested FAO to assist in dealing with land rights policy formulation and livestock policy support.
Rice is crucial to Cambodian diets and its national agricultural and economic development plans. At one site in Prey Veng Province, FAO is using donor funding to provide new varieties of high-yield rice seed, fertilizer, and extension services to help train small-holder farmers in new techniques, technologies, and methods to sustainably increase production while also addressing post-harvest losses (estimated to amount to as much as 40 percent of yields). Other work is being done by FAO to train local communities and leaders on diets and food-based approaches to improving nutrition, particularly for women and infants.
The challenges for Cambodia's agriculture sector are not insignificant, even with the recent entry into the agriculture sector by the United States with its Feed the Future food security strategy. With global climate change impacting crucial rainfall and temperature patterns, international financial markets remaining unpredictable, and global food and commodity prices having increased, additional pressures may be placed on the country's economy (fully dependent upon imports of oil and petroleum-based fertilizers, as an example) and its efforts to meet its Millennium Development Goals. With the help of FAO, other UN agencies, and donors, Cambodia should be able to weather these current challenges and move toward food security for its charming people.