In Cambodia, everyone works to put food on their table or khontel – a traditional Khmer sedge mat on which households commonly eat – and when people discuss food, often the first topic is what’s on the plate. But they are less likely to consider the origins of the meal, who grows the food and the livelihoods of these farmers, all of which play a key role in food security and the supply chain.
As defined by the UN at the 1996 World Food Summit, food security is a stage where “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.”
Food security is an issue affecting everyone in Cambodia and awareness is the first step toward reaching this important goal. However, experts worry there is little understanding of the concept within the country.
We need to find the right message and toolIean Russell, senior policy advisor at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Cambodia
“[Food Security] is a complex idea, and even we struggle to make it clear,” Russell said. “We need to make it simple. But sometimes, it gets very complicated for people.”
Besides lack of public awareness, the main threats to food security are world population growth, increasing food demand and food prices, agricultural plant species disappearance, scarcity of water, limited land availability and food loss and waste, according to Common Agricultural Policy.
Speaking specifically of young people, Russell said, “We need to find the right message and tool.”
Reflecting the increasing importance of social media in people’s lives, an online collaborative media project called MHOPe has been created by Heinrich Boell Stiftung (HBS), a German foundation promoting democracy, civil society, human rights, international understanding and a healthy environment.
A play on the Khmer word for “food,” the MHOPe project aims to raise awareness on the origins of the food we eat by highlighting the life stories of individual workers at every step from farm to table.
“I believe ‘MHOPe and what we eat’ is an introduction to the foundation of sustainable food understanding”, a MHOPe team member said. “By learning the process, we can learn to give value to what we make, and the food we eat. We learn to appreciate the effort of each process.”
MHOPe plans to use a traditional Cambodian dish called samlor korko to describe the socio-economic aspects of nutrition, food security and the food cycle by highlighting women and men whose work is the foundation of food and nutrition.
Samlor korko is among the most popular of the traditional Khmer dishes, beloved by locals and foreigners. The soup consists of various vegetables, prahok (fish paste), kroeung (mixed herbs) and meat or fish according to the cook’s preference.
On MHOPe Facebook page, audiences are exposed to a variety of content, including videos, photo stories, articles and illustrations. An ongoing video series, “1001 Ways of Samlor Korko,” features female celebrity chef Nak talking to women of varied backgrounds about different cooking techniques and the nutrition of this national soup. The discussions illustrate the choices women make to feed their families, which often hinges on affordability.
Various steps and ingredients for Samlor Korko. Chef Nak’s Recipe.
Photo: Miguel Jeronimo/MHOPe
Following decades of work to strengthen food security in Cambodia, Russell said he believes awareness is the first step. Food security should focus less on availability and more on affordability and accessibility of good quality, nutritious and safe dishes.
“In Cambodia, we have a lot of food. But, to me, if it’s not safe and nutritious, it’s not food,” he said. “That’s why food security and nutrition have to come together.”
Taking samlor korko as an example, Russell believes many traditional Khmer dishes provide good nutrition, including those with more fish than red meat. Yet there is still a problem with how people cook.
“We tend to add a large amount of sugar or MSG to the original recipe,” Russell said. “The way we cook is not as good and healthy as how it was in the past.”
“In Cambodia, we have a lot of food. But, to me, if it’s not safe and nutritious, it’s not food. That’s why food security and nutrition have to come together.”Iean Russell
A strategy for achieving widespread food security and nutrition while encouraging a healthy balance between socio-economic and environmental sustainability is laid out in Cambodia’s Roadmap for Food Systems for Sustainable Development 2030.
The roadmap should be accessible to every Cambodian, according to MHOPe, which intends to support the project’s accomplishments by increasing awareness and working to achieve its overall goals. Increasing awareness of the issues surrounding the food system is a challenging task and MHOPe believes reaching out to everyday people is vital to the future of the country.
“To reach this vision, there is a need for an increased awareness and civic engagement around current systems, unhealthy and unsustainable food and nutritional patterns in society,” MHOPe said.
A version of this article was originally published on Focus Cambodia with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation Cambodia