Food Security and Nutrition Data

Cambodia Situation

Food security is a cross-cutting issue, and in a country such as Cambodia, rural poverty and food insecurity are strongly interlinked. In Cambodia most people depend, to an important extent, on their own capacity to produce food to meet their needs. They grow crops including their staple food (rice) as well as other annual and perennial crops, raise livestock, and harvest wild foods from fisheries and forests for food and income. Despite Cambodia being self-sufficient in rice at the national level, the country’s rice balance varies significantly from area to area within the country, as well as from year to year. Crop agriculture is largely rice-based, with very limited diversification in many food-insecure areas of the lowland flood plains, while fish production (a main source of protein) is declining and increasingly under threat. Many rural households have insufficient land for crop production. Many rural people also depend on casual low-wage labor or informal-sector enterprises to make income with which to buy at least part of their food needs, and the food security of poor rural people can often depend mainly on income from such activities. Farmers seeking to sell their crops face a poorly developed road and market infrastructure, limited storage capacity, and high transaction costs. Net returns from rice production are very low, and the marketing strategies of households earn little profit. Purchasing power to buy food is generally very limited in rural areas due to the high incidence of poverty. Rice shortages (rice gaps for two months or more) at the household level are frequent and contribute to the indebtedness of rural households, which in turn leads to chronic food insecurity. High health expenditures erode the asset base and purchasing power of food-insecure and vulnerable households. Income and food from common-property resources (forests and fisheries) are particularly important for the poor, but concessions and environmental degradation have restricted their access to these resources.

Cambodia has some of the highest malnutrition rates in Asia, with 44% of children under five years of age stunted and 15% wasted. Micronutrient deficiencies such as Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD), Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) and Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA) are widespread and hamper the full use of human potential for development. There is limited access to safe water and proper sanitation. People’s poor health status (resulting from limited access to quality health services and preventive health) impairs optimal utilisation of food, while poor quality diet and inadequate feeding and caring practices further exacerbate the problem.

In recent years, flooding and drought have become more frequent, but emergency response capacities remain insufficient. The current production system is very vulnerable to drought due to the lack of diversification and irrigation. Depletion of productive assets, as a result of indebtedness, leads to chronic food insecurity. The food needs of permanent vulnerable groups (female-headed households with children, elderly, disabled, people living with HIV/AIDS) are not sufficiently addressed as a result of disrupted rural social institutions and lack of social safety nets. While women in Cambodia play a major role in all components of food security, whether in food production, marketing, household income/budgeting or as care takers, their role is negatively impacted by issues such as high illiteracy rates among women, lack of education and knowledge, and poor health and nutritional status (e.g. very high maternal mortality rates and iron-deficiency anaemia prevalence of 65% among pregnant women).

The elimination of food and nutritional insecurity in Cambodia, and the attainment of Cambodian Millennium Development Goal 1 to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, demands a specific, comprehensive and integrated approach focusing on all three dimensions of food security: availability, access and use and utilization. Furthermore, food security and vulnerability need to be tackled at the national, household and individual level.


Food security and nutrition are at the forefront of discussions among policy-makers in Cambodia, who are incorporating food security and nutrition-related goals and objectives in national strategies and frameworks such as the Cambodia Nutrition Investment Plan (CNIP) 2003-2007, the Cambodia Millennium Development Goals (CMDGs), the Rectangular Strategy and the upcoming National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) 2006-2010. Achievement of seven out of the eight Millennium Development Goals depends on achieving Food and Nutrition Security. In late 2004, the Royal Government of Cambodia created a Technical Working Group on Food Security and Nutrition (TWGFSN) to promote the “mainstreaming” of food security and nutrition in sectoral policies and strategies and to support the integration of food security and nutrition in the decentralized planning process. The role of the TWGFSN is one of coordination among the RGC and donors.


Important steps are also being taken by the RGC with the support of donors, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and research institutions, among others, to improve access to land, improve and diversify agricultural production, create income-generating opportunities for rural households, rehabilitate infrastructure, increase investments in safe water and sanitation, educate mothers on the importance of appropriate feeding and caring practices, scale-up micronutrient supplementation and food fortification programs, work towards health sector reform, establish social safety nets, and encourage the partcipation of communities in planning and decision-making processes.


FSN-Strategy Paper developed by the TWG-FSN

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