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Promoting food security and sustainability in Cambodia

Credit: Image courtesy UTIA.

Knoxville, fig. While the weather, topography, and soil vary distinctly, leading to differences in the available crops, planting a hillside in rural eastern Tennessee is a lot like farming a floodplain in Cambodia or anywhere else. Food and fiber production equates to food security and economic prosperity, and small farmers hold one of the keys to improving food security and human nutrition. This is especially true in underdeveloped countries. Helping these farmers around the world improve their operations and distribute their goods more widely is among the goals of the Smith Center for Sustainable International Agriculture of the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture.

UTIA faculty work through the Smith Center with small farmers in countries in Africa, Central and South America, Eastern Europe and Asia, including Cambodia. A new grant will enable them to continue their work in Cambodia through 2023. The Nutrition Innovation Lab for the Future for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) has awarded the Smith Center US $ 750,000 for a program called “Scale up appropriate and sustainable technologies”. The program, called “S3”, will increase Cambodia’s total agricultural production and enhance the resilience of crop systems, which will also support food security and improved nutritional outcomes for farmers and their communities.

SIIL supports Feed the Future goals to reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition in the world. SIIL funding comes from the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“This next phase gives us an opportunity to take what we have learned and make a positive impact on smallholder farmers in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia,” says David Ader, assistant director of the Smith Center and head of the S3 project. From 2015 to 2020, Ader helped map regional farming techniques by farm gender and environmental practices. The new grant will allow Ader and his team to study how to strengthen the capacity of local systems and provide technical assistance, educational opportunities, and organizational strengthening for individual farmers and farmer organizations.

This process will provide important information about how smallholder farmers can increase their production through improved practices and technologies and through local, national and regional networks. It should serve as a regional model for sustainable technologies for rice-dependent farmers and those engaged in the cultivation of perennial varieties or what we call wild gardening, “wild gardening is the practice of growing herbs, vegetables and other perennial crops mixed together on land that would otherwise be left unused. Other perennial species, with little to no active cultivation or management.

In addition to working with perennial species, the S3 program will educate smallholder farmers about vegetable grafting, use of cover crops and soil amendments to increase production.

Created with a generous gift from the Donald and Terry Smith Foundation, the Smith Center enables UTIA faculty, staff, and students to think and act globally in the pursuit of sustainable solutions to the world’s agricultural, food and natural resource challenges. “We follow a holistic approach and systems to address the problems of hunger, poverty and malnutrition in the world, and we continue to work towards enabling the adoption of innovations that focus on people’s livelihoods and well-being,” says Ader.

The Smith Center will partner with the Center of Excellence for Intensification and Sustainable Agricultural Nutrition (CE SAIN), based at the Royal University of Agriculture in Cambodia. The goal of the partnership is to promote innovation in the private sector, agricultural research, education and training and public sector capacity building focused on improving food and nutrition security. Environmental sustainability, including improving soil and water quality as well as biodiversity, will be a major component of research and training. Other project partners include Pennsylvania State University and Tennessee State University as well as Swisscontact, the Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and the University of Battambang in Cambodia.

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