Enhancing Food Security, Sustainability in Cambodia

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UTIA’s Smith Center Receives USAID Grant

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — While the weather, terrain and soil obviously differ, thus bringing differences in available crops, farming a hillside in rural East Tennessee bears many resemblances to farming a floodplain in Cambodia or anywhere else. Food and fiber production equals food security and economic prosperity, and small-scale farmers hold one of the keys to improving food security and human nutrition. This is especially true in underdeveloped countries. Helping such farmers across the globe improve their operations and distribute their goods more broadly are among the goals of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture’s Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture.

UTIA faculty have been working through the Smith Center with small-scale 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 Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) has awarded the Smith Center $750,000 for the program called “Scaling Suitable, Sustainable Technologies.” Nicknamed “S3,” the program will work to increase overall agricultural production in Cambodia and enhance the resilience of cropping systems, which will also support food security and enhanced nutritional outcomes for farmers and their communities.

SIIL supports the Feed the Future goals of reducing global hunger, poverty and undernutrition. Funding for the SIIL 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 create positive impact on smallholder farmers in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia,” says David Ader, assistant director of the Smith Center and leader of the S3 project. From 2015-2020 Ader helped map regional farming technologies by farmer gender and by ecological practices. The new grant will allow Ader and his team to examine how to enhance the capacity of local systems and also offer technical assistance, educational opportunities and organizational strengthening to individual farmers and to farmer organizations.

“This process will provide critical information on how smallholder farms can scale up their production through improved practices and technologies and through local, national and regional networks. It should serve as a regional model of sustainable technologies for rice-based farmers and those engaged in farming perennial species or what we call wild gardening,” Ader says. Wild gardening is the practice of growing herbs, vegetables and other perennial crops mixed together on land that would otherwise be left unused. The vegetables grow among the 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 on vegetable grafting and the use of cover crops and soil amendments to increase production.

wild gardening in Cambodia

Ricky Bates (left) from Pennsylvania State University; Channaty Ngang (right), a University of Battambang technician; and Khemrin Khieu, a horticulture expert at the World Vegetable Center in Cambodia, examine a small nursery of underutilized perennial vegetable species. Photo by D. Ader, courtesy UTIA.

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

The Smith Center will partner with the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN), housed at the Royal University of Agriculture in Cambodia. The partnership’s goal is to foster private-sector innovation, agricultural research, education and training and public sector capacity building focused on improving food and nutritional security. Environmental sustainability, including enhanced soil and water quality as well as biodiversity, will be key components of the research and training. Other project partners include the Pennsylvania State University and Tennessee State University as well as Swisscontact, Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) and the University of Battambang in Cambodia.

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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David Ader, Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture