sustainable agriculture in CambodiaFrom 2004-2012, Cambodia experienced a spurt of economic growth due in large part to an increase in rice production. During that time period, the country’s agricultural gross product increased by 8.7 percent.

But since 2012, the growth in agriculture has slowed. In 2013-14, agricultural gross product fell below 2 percent. Much of the past growth came from the expansion of cultivated lands, but this expansion may have reached its limits. In order for Cambodia to continue to grow its economy and support those who rely on agriculture, sustainable agriculture in Cambodia will become increasingly important to the country’s future.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is assisting Cambodia’s agriculture sector through the Feed the Future program. The program has trained over 193,000 farmers in new technologies. This has led to an increase in income among those in the farming industry as well as a 30 percent decrease in the number of underweight children in Cambodia.

USAID is continuing its work in Cambodia and has laid out its goals and expected results for the future. These expectations include continuing to help farmers increase sales and working with the private sector to grow and leverage investments in horticulture.

In September 2016, Kansas State University partnered with the USAID Feed the Future program to launch the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN). The center seeks to increase sustainable agriculture in Cambodia with a combination of private sector innovation, public sector improvement and training in sustainable agriculture techniques. These goals are accomplished in part by innovation labs and technology parks that highlight new technologies and strategies.

Another project funded by the partnership between USAID and CE SAIN is being run by Penn State University and focuses on the northern part of Cambodia. This program will work directly with 250 women in the agricultural industry. It will teach the women new farming techniques as well as how to successfully deal with climate change.

Rick Bates, a horticulture professor at Penn State, said that the program’s goal is “growing more food, on existing land, using fewer resources and in an ecologically friendly manner”. This sums up why sustainable agriculture in Cambodia is such a vital part of the country’s future. When the expansion of cultivated lands is no longer an option, new and innovative technologies can help farmers grow crops more efficiently on the land that is available.

– Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr

humanitarian aid to cambodia
During the 1970s, Cambodia went from one of the most thriving economies in Southeast Asia to one of the poorest countries in the world. Although overthrown by 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime had already done damage to the economy by cutting access to education, eradicating free markets and stifling individuality. The country was haunted further by the mass genocide and government corruption carried out by the regime, leading to a need for restructuring for almost an entire decade following the devastation.

As of 2014, Cambodia has been recognized as being one of the best performers with respect to reducing its poverty rate. Both citizens and developed countries have contributed humanitarian aid to Cambodia, which has helped address poverty rates in the country.

In 2016, 80 U.S. troops were sent to Cambodia by the humanitarian aid group, Pacific Angel. This is the fourth Pacific Angel mission held in Cambodia since its 2007 establishment. This mission focuses on the rural province of Kampot, providing aid through healthcare, school supplies and civil-engineering projects.

Another leading contributor of humanitarian aid to Cambodia is Australia, remaining one of the most significant bilateral grant-based donors. Australia’s provision of official development assistance from 2015-2016 to Cambodia was AUD $92 million. The three main objectives of Australia’s aid are: providing better health and education, improving access to infrastructure and increasing agricultural productivity.

Through each sector, a focus on women’s empowerment, disability, governance and inclusive participation will be implemented. Australia’s target is to drive growth in the economy through working with private sectors, as well as to achieve aid for trade by 2020.

As a result of the aid provided by Australia from 2015-2016, 500,000 Cambodians in rural areas received greater access to jobs, food and higher incomes while creating higher investments. Cambodians also received more access to land and experienced increases in crop production. Over 9,950 women and their families received counseling, shelter and legal aid. Rehabilitation was provided to over 31,000 disabled citizens through a strongly executed disability-precise program.

Caritas, a nonprofit organization, also provides humanitarian aid to Cambodia which benefits young people dealing with disabilities. While assisting individuals in the job market and supporting their inclusion in society, Caritas also aims to also address local poverty in Cambodia.

Cambodia has come a long way from the late 1990s and is slowly regaining success in its economy. Though poverty has not been completely eliminated, with the help of humanitarian aid Cambodia is sure to see the poverty rate continue to decrease each year.

– Tara Jackson

Photo: Flickr

McCain seeks to protect Cambodians' Human Rights
The United States government has been invested in Cambodian development since the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, when an internationally supported plan to transition Cambodia towards democracy was set into motion. The United States has since provided hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to Cambodia, aiding health, development and nongovernmental organizations. Despite these efforts, Cambodia remains an undemocratic society, dominated by one party whose failure to hold free and fair elections is currently threatening the health and well-being of the people of Cambodia. Senator John McCain recently introduced a resolution to Congress which would reaffirm the commitment of the United States to promote democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia, asserting his dedication to protecting Cambodians’ human rights.

Cambodia’s progress towards democracy has resulted in steady economic growth as well as significant improvements in public health. However, there are still almost three million Cambodians living in poverty. Maternal and child mortality rates are high, access to safe water and sanitation is limited and there is a growing epidemic of noncommunicable and communicable diseases. Healthcare is not readily available to the poor, who cannot afford the burden of high out of pocket costs, which make up the majority of Cambodia’s national health expenditures. Without proper leadership in public health programs and adequate access to healthcare, Cambodia’s health crisis will continue.

Unfortunately, Cambodian progress has been derailed during the past few years and Cambodians’ human rights are becoming increasingly threatened. The Cambodian government has begun seizing even tighter control, pushing out public programs that would help protect citizens’ well being, restricting the media, and assassinating or arresting individuals who seek to undermine their oppressive authority. Among those arrested in just the past two years include a women’s rights activist, senior members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, the president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party and a political commentator. In just the past few months, the Cambodian government has forced out members of the Peace Corps, ordered the closure of the National Democratic Institute and held a threatening election in violation of campaign rules after demanding that election monitoring organizations cease their activities.

The resolution McCain seeks to pass would condemn the political violence and impropriety currently threatening Cambodians’ human rights. If passed, the United States government would place implicated Cambodian officials on a Specially Designated Nationals list and call on the Cambodian government to hold free elections that would allow citizens to elect leaders that would prioritize their health and well-being.

– Jenae Atwell

Photo: Flickr

Development Projects in CambodiaCambodia is a developing country with a population of over 16 million. There are many ways for countries to become developed, including improvements to infrastructure and education. Here are five development projects in Cambodia.

  1. Secondary Education Improvement Act. The country of Cambodia achieved a 98 percent primary enrollment in 2015. Cambodia has done much to expand education, including building 1,000 schools over the past 10 years. The purpose of the Secondary Education Act is “to expand lower secondary education to achieve minimum standards in target areas,” according to the World Bank. Since having basic reading skills can increase one’s earnings, this act can have potential long-term benefits.
  2. Livelihood Enhancement and Association of the Poor Project (LEAP) Almost 18 percent of Cambodia’s population is under the poverty line. The LEAP project aims to increase access to financial services and income generating opportunities for vulnerable households.
  3. Water Resources Management Sector Development Program. About 75 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. The program will upgrade the irrigation systems in Cambodia so that people will have access to clean water. According to the Asian Development Bank, the project will also strengthen the capacity of the government and communities to manage water resources.
  4. Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) for Floating Villages Project. While the net enrollment for primary education is 98 percent, enrollment for children aged three to five is only 41 percent. The ECCD project aims to provide access to quality services through community and home-based programs for children under age five.
  5. Flood Damage Emergency Reconstruction Project. In 2011, a flood in Cambodia destroyed crops, infrastructure and overall affected more than 1 million people. This particular project aims to help rebuild the infrastructure that was damaged in the flooded area, such as 524 kilometers of roads and six bridges. It will also restore irrigation systems and people’s livelihoods.

Cambodia has experienced strong economic growth over the last decade, with an average annual growth rate of their GDP at over seven percent per year. With these project and plans in place, the country will be on the right track to building and developing further. As many of these development projects in Cambodia strive to increase earnings at an individual level, the economic benefits will continue to be tremendous.

– Dezanii Lewis

Photo: Flickr

 

Malnutrition in Impoverished CountriesAnemia is the most common nutritional problem in the world. There are over two billion people that are anemic. Tackling malnutrition in impoverished countries can be difficult, but the creators of the Lucky Iron Fish hope to alleviate a worldwide issue.

When the creator of the Lucky Iron Fish, Christopher Charles went to Cambodia, he found that there were many people suffering from iron deficiency and anemia. About half of the women and children in the entire country was not getting the proper amount of iron in their diets. That caused many people to be tired, suffer constant headaches, and even made them unable to work at times.

When Dr. Charles visited, there were no real solutions to this problem. Iron supplements were not widely available and even if people could get their hands on them, the iron supplements were too expensive. Cambodians also did not want to take the supplements due to various side effects.

Dr. Charles wanted to come up with a solution to all of these problems. The Lucky Iron Fish is the solution Cambodians were looking for.

The Lucky Iron Fish is a small iron fish that can be used to infuse foods with a healthy amount of iron. Iron supplements tend to have too much iron in them which can be detrimental to your health. The Lucky Iron Fish infuses meals with about 75 percent of the daily recommended iron so people are not getting too much iron in their meals, so there are no ill side effects.

Another problem with iron supplements is that people usually just do not like taking them. The Lucky Iron Fish is made to be cooked in food that people were going to eat anyways. When using the fish, they just need to boil it for 10 minutes along with their food and the meal is now iron rich. Not only that, but the iron is tasteless so it does not affect the meals.

Cost is a major factor when dealing with malnutrition in impoverished countries. High cost can end up making the product unavailable to those who need it most.

The Lucky Iron Fish itself cost about 30 USD. So it is not too expensive so it can be bought by many people. Not only that, but the creators of the Iron Fish have a buy a fish give a fish program. Anyone who buys a fish will also end up giving a fish to a family who needs it.

30 USD can end up looking expensive for some because people think they have to replace it every couple of months. A single Lucky Iron Fish can end up being used for five years before needing replacing.

Tackling malnutrition in impoverished countries can be a challenge. Cost and effectiveness of a product can really reduce resources for impoverished countries to use. The Luck Iron Fish tackles all of these issues to make sure people are getting the best product to tackle anemia and iron deficiency.

The original target for the Lucky Iron Fish was for Cambodians. Now anyone can buy them and the creators are hoping to send one million fishes worldwide by 2020.

– Daniel Borjas

Photo: Google

Women's Empowerment in CambodiaSlightly smaller than the state of Oklahoma, the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia has a population of about 16 million, with over half being women. The country is rich in natural resources and has very low levels of unemployment. Despite the high levels of employment, there remains an economic gender gap and a need for women’s empowerment in Cambodia.

This gender gap is not only related to the unequal pay of women compared to men, but women in Cambodia often lack job opportunities and career versatility compared to their male counterparts. Women’s empowerment in Cambodia is paramount because it can have profound impacts on the number of individuals living in deep poverty.

Economic Inequality and Lack of Education

Women in Cambodia who fall under wage employment, make approximately 80.8 percent of men’s earnings. According to the World Bank, there is evidence that this wage gap is growing, from 20 percent in 2009 to 30 percent in 2011. Additionally, approximately 53 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 64, work in agriculture production. This is considered to be a vulnerable type of employment.

According to the International Labour Organization, vulnerable employment is the sum of own-account workers and unpaid contributing family workers. Vulnerable workers often have poor and inadequate working conditions and frequently live in deep poverty.

Women also often have less career versatility and opportunities compared to men due in part to a lack of education and low literacy rates.  In 2012, the literacy rate among women in Cambodia was 73.2 percent, an increase of nearly 13 percent in 2004. However, the literacy rates for men remain much higher at about 87 percent. Girls often tend to drop out of school in greater numbers compared to boys, in turn limiting their job potential later in life.

What can be done?

There are a number of obstacles to women’s empowerment in Cambodia, all of which are primarily related to education. In 2013, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) became more active in Cambodia, working to reduce poverty, improve health and raise educational levels for women. The goal of their work is to provide women with the necessary skills and resources and economically empower women in Cambodia.

The desperately needed economic women’s empowerment in Cambodia can be achieved through education. Once women are educated and empowered, more individuals and families can be lifted out of poverty and the livelihood of millions can improve.

– Sarah Jane Fraser

Photo: Flickr

Traffic Accidents Disrupt Cambodia's Millennium Development GoalsThe main cause of death in Cambodia is traffic accidents. While there are expected damages to the car and its surroundings, the effects of the accidents extend much further than the intersection where it occurred. As a result of the traffic issues, Cambodia is suffering from the destruction of lives and property and from reduced development efforts. Specifically, traffic accidents disrupt Cambodia’s Millennium Development Goals efforts, the first of which is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

The challenges to national development arise directly, and indirectly, from the costs associated with each traffic accident. According to a 2013 study, traffic accidents cost the government about $337 million. That is equivalent to nearly three percent of Cambodia’s GDP. The costs stem from the destruction of the roads and cars, medical expenses, court service fees and non-productivity. The Minister of Health, Dr. Nuth Sokkom, reported that upwards of 50 percent of hospital patients are there because of traffic accidents. Costs accumulate when injuries are severe, as some riders need a year’s worth of treatment or are permanently disabled. When these cases arise, the financial burden shifts to the government to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves.

Specifically for low-income families, the effect of a traffic accident is even more costly. A family can spend years trying to pay off the debt incurred. Even for the survivors, victims and their families are often forced to sell land and livestock in order to make ends meet. Further, since a majority of victims are young men who are the head of their household, the children of the victims’ families are impacted on an educational level. To help with work at home, many children drop out of school. Research shows that the dropout rate has increased to 30 percent among victims’ families.

Ear Chariya, director of Cambodia’s Institute for Road Safety, has made statements regarding the number of accidents and attributes the problem to a couple of different sources. First, traffic signs and lights are already in place, so driver caution needs to increase. Second, the government simply is not doing much to enforce the traffic laws and hold abusers accountable.

The good news is that in 2016, Cambodia experienced a significant drop in the number of traffic accidents. Not only did the number of accidents decrease by about 12 percent, but the number of deaths and injuries decreased as well. With a more active law enforcement to implement the rules of the road, Cambodia saw a positive turn away from traffic-related incidents. With new traffic laws in place, the government is focused on spreading awareness about the laws with the intent to continue increasing driver accountability. Given the success in the first year’s implementation, how long traffic accidents disrupt Cambodia’s Millennium Development Goals is surely limited. As the costs of the accidents are removed, both the government and people of Cambodia can reallocate the resources toward ending the pervasive hunger and poverty throughout the nation.

Taylor Elkins

Photo: Flickr

Elimination of Trachoma in Cambodia and Lao PDRCambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) recently eliminated trachoma as a public threat. Through the creation of the Alliance for Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET2020) by the World Health Organization (WHO), these countries were able to improve their strategies for diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Trachoma is a disease that affects the eye and is caused by the bacteria Chlamidya trachomatis. Trachoma spreads through physical contact via discharge of the nose or eyes of an infected individual. Progression or repeated infection of this disease can lead to permanent damage to the cornea and blindness.

Trachoma is a disease that is closely linked to poor hygiene and sanitation conditions. Other environmental factors that contribute to the spread of trachoma include water shortages and crowded living spaces. As of now, trachoma affects 41 countries in the poorest parts of the world.

Through GET2020, the WHO and other organizations use the SAFE strategy to ensure the elimination of trachoma. According to the WHO, the SAFE strategy includes “surgery for trichiasis, antibiotics to treat active infection, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements to limit transmission.”

Since 2000, Cambodia and Lao PDR have worked to implement better treatment for trachoma, as well as increase health education to prevent the spread of trachoma. Furthermore, over the past decade, socioeconomic conditions have improved and the birth rate has decreased. All these efforts have led to better conditions to avoid the spread of trachoma.

The elimination of trachoma as a public health threat does not necessarily mean that the disease is eradicated from the countries. It does, however, show a significant improvement of the standard of living and health conditions in both of these countries.

In order for the WHO to consider trachoma to be eliminated as a public health threat, certain numbers must be seen across the board. According to the WHO website, “less than 5 percent of children aged 1-9 [should] have signs of active trachoma, less than 0.2 percent of people over 15 years have a more advanced form of the disease…and their health systems can identify and manage new cases[.]”

While only three of the 41 affected countries have eliminated trachoma as a public health threat, Cambodia and Lao PDR have paved a path for other countries to follow suit. Through the help of the WHO and other affiliated organizations, the elimination of trachoma as a public health threat can continue.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr

The Political Promise of Young CambodiansUSAID sponsors Next Generation, a televised youth debate in Cambodia. The debate is intended to encourage peaceful political discussion among young Cambodians in a country that values “saving face” and non-confrontation.

These practices are extremely harmful to productive political discussion. Next Generation aims to mitigate the consequences of these social constructs by inspiring young people in Cambodia to engage in debates.

The weekly TV show hosts 24 young adults for a 30-minute debate on issues such as poverty, the electoral system, Facebook censorship and gender quotas. The program hopes to foster a culture of constructive political discussion among the future leaders of Cambodia.

24-year-old Linda Eang won the debate in 2014. She had been a shy child, and her family tried to discourage her from pursuing politics, since being a politician can be dangerous in Cambodia. After learning in school about the state of poverty and healthcare in Cambodia, Eang decided that she wanted to be part of the solution, despite the vast challenges of the field.

After graduating from university, Eang decided she wanted to focus on coaching other young Cambodians. She expressed that “the greatest barriers for young people in Cambodia are the lack of trust and motivation from the environment around us” and that Cambodians “are taught to be followers”.

Eang believes that young people can become more empowered and bring positive change to their country by getting an education. She aims to coach young people to eloquently express themselves and to have self-confidence.

Another forum for the empowerment of young people in Cambodia is Politikoffee, a community that meets weekly to discuss politics and drink coffee. The meetings started with Channy Chheng and three friends who enjoyed drinking coffee and discussing topics like policy, economics, education and agriculture.

The group decided that their conversations would benefit from more people bringing additional knowledge to their discussions, so they started Politikoffee as a platform for Cambodians to engage in political debates, free from restrictive cultural norms. Productive political argumentation is counter to traditional Khmer culture, which encourages respect for elders and the status quo.

For member Chea Veasner, these open and honest conversations are something she cannot have at her university. Veasner notes that many of her Cambodian friends do not like to argue and will not voice their opinions when given the chance.

Politikoffee provides a safe environment for Cambodia’s young, ambitious people to discuss ideas rarely discussed elsewhere. Despite assumptions that young Cambodians are not interested in politics, many actually are passionate about politics because social injustice is blatant.

Opportunities like Next Generation and Politikoffee allow Cambodia’s youths to overcome restrictive cultural norms and are fueling future political change. According to a Politikoffee’s social media representative, “Youth, from my experience, all have a vision of what their Cambodia should be, and for the vast majority of them, it’s a Cambodia that is very different from their parents.”

Kristen Nixon
Photo: Flickr

Freedom of the Press in CambodiaOver the past few weeks, the freedom of the press in Cambodia has suffered significantly. The country normally displays an impressive ability to support unbiased news sources, but the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently directed a crackdown on opposing press organizations.

In anticipation of a threatening 2018 election, the government has shut down 19 radio stations and charged exorbitant taxes to other publications that do not support Hun Sen’s government. The U.S., European Union and the U.N. have all criticized the Cambodian government for its recent actions.

However, Hun Sen is empowered by President Trump’s attacks on free press and the current domestically-focused agenda, which has led to weak engagement with Southeast Asia. In recent years, social media has become a main source of news for Cambodians, and parties challenging the government have been able to use platforms such as Facebook to their advantage.

Social media use in Cambodia has surged dramatically since 2010, with the 2015 growth rate of Facebook users being 30 percent each year. Eight out of 10 of Cambodia’s most popular Facebook pages are political information sources, including news publications and political figures. Cambodians want personal connections with political figures, and thus value the opportunity to engage with candidates on Facebook. Another contributor to high political activity is the heated political climate which makes every issue into a political issue, according to deputy opposition leader Mu Sochua. Sochua believes that Facebook will be a crucial platform to communicate with Cambodians about her party’s values.

Hun Sen’s rival political candidate, Sam Rainsy, has accused Hun Sen of buying Facebook “likes.” The post landed him in prison for defamation, which is yet another example of the government suppressing the freedom of the press in Cambodia. Leaks revealing unflattering information about opposing parties is a common occurrence on political Facebook pages.

During the Arab Spring, social media proved to be a tool that allowed discontented citizens to organize and make their voices heard. In the week before Egyptian President Hosni Mubaraks resigned, tweets about politics increased from 2,300 to 230,000 per day. Videos featuring political protest or commentary went viral, building confidence in the peoples’ ability to organize to force the change they want to see.

Demands for political freedom on social media has inspired other nearby countries, sparking political discussion in the entire region. Government efforts to restrict discussion on social media has only fueled the change makers, since social media is much harder to control than traditional press organizations.

The desire for reform regarding freedom of the press must originate from the Cambodian people, and Facebook can be a tool used to amplify their voices. The Cambodians’ extensive involvement in politics on social media is a promising sign for their ability to come together to protect their political freedoms, even when the freedom of the press is being threatened.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr