Nav: Home

Increasing sustainable food production could empower Cambodian women

March 01, 2016

A team of researchers, led by scientists in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, will launch a project designed to improve nutrition and empower women in Cambodia by promoting their production and marketing of horticultural crops and rice produced via sustainable intensification practices.

Funding for the $1 million project, Women in Agriculture Network Cambodia: Gender and Ecologically Sensitive Agriculture, was awarded by the Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, which is based at Kansas State University. The program is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Smallholder farmers produce nearly half of the world's food, but they often have notoriously low yields, strong gendered divisions of labor and limited financial resources, according to lead investigator Rick Bates, professor of horticulture at Penn State.

"Small-scale farming systems such as these -- prevalent in many developing countries -- have been called 'very resilient poverty traps' that are characterized by chronic food and nutrition insecurity," said Bates, whose expertise includes horticulture enterprise development and sustainable food production systems. "Such is the situation in Cambodia, where some regions have 45 percent poverty rates and high concentrations of stunting and malnutrition."

To overcome these challenges, the researchers aim to improve the socio-economic and nutritional status of women and their families by promoting existing and potential sustainable intensification technologies, practices and policies that foster production of nutritious and marketable food while protecting agro-ecological resources.

Sustainable intensification, or SI, is defined as the process of enhancing crop yields on existing agricultural lands while minimizing environmental impact. The concept grew out of the realization that a growing global population is increasing the demand for food at a time when land, water, energy and other inputs are in short supply.

Bates noted that the project has three major objectives:
  • To identify and promote adoption of gender-sensitive SI technologies and practices in rice and horticulture value chains, targeted to improve ecological resilience and the nutritional status and income of poor households.
  • To identify and foster the conditions and social networks that will enable women to fully participate in the local, regional and international value chains for horticultural and rice-based foods produced via SI.
  • To build capacity in local agricultural institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and international universities and research institutes to develop and promote the adoption of innovations in gender-sensitive and ecologically sensitive SI.

The researchers contend that horticultural and other foods grown by smallholder farmers via SI are produced and distributed through value chains that can be exploited to create new opportunities for women and improve the nutrition of their families.

"Cambodia represents a best-case scenario for promoting SI through the increased involvement of women, who already play a significant and often nearly autonomous role in agriculture in much of the country," Bates said. "Our project stresses the importance of markets and will promote efforts to move Cambodian agriculture toward a market-driven system."

However, explained co-principal investigator Leif Jensen, because markets can work differently for women and men, the researchers will bring a gendered-economy perspective to the project.

"Our value chain analysis will address normative, cultural, economic and political forces and barriers that affect access to and control of resources in the production of horticultural goods via SI in Cambodia," said Jensen, Distinguished Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography. "Although the project will focus on four of the country's provinces, we hope our approach will serve as a model for the entire country and region."
The project's 14 other co-principal investigators include researchers from Penn State and several other universities and research centers, with expertise in areas such as gender and agriculture, international agriculture and development, crop protection and integrated pest management, agricultural economics, agroecology, soil science, agribusiness development, food science, and animal science.

Women's Agricultural Network Cambodia falls under the umbrella of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences' new Gender, Agriculture and Environment Initiative, led by Carolyn Sachs, professor of rural sociology and women's studies, and Ann Tickamyer, professor and head, Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education.

The initiative draws together a network of scholars and researchers who can initiate and respond to new opportunities for research, instruction and evidence-based outreach that address the intersections of gender with agricultural and environmental sciences. For more information about the initiative, contact Deanna Behring, the college's director of international programs, at

Penn State

Related Nutrition Articles:

'Front of package' nutrition labels improved nutrition quality
A new study analyzing 16 years of data on tens of thousands of products finds that the adoption of nutrition data on ''front of package'' labels is associated with improved nutritional content of those foods and their competitors.
Aquaculture's role in nutrition in the COVID-19 era
A new paper from American University examines the economics of an aquaculture industry of the future that is simultaneously environmentally sustainable and nutritious for the nearly 1 billion people worldwide who depend on it.
Fathers are more likely to be referred for nutrition or exercise counseling
Fatherhood status has been linked to medical providers' weight-related practices or counseling referrals.
Refugee children get better health, nutrition via e-vouchers
Electronic food vouchers provided young Rohingya children in Bangladeshi refugee camps with better health and nutrition than direct food assistance, according to new research led by Cornell University, in conjunction with the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Leaders call for 'Moonshot' on nutrition research
Leading nutrition and food policy experts outline a bold case for strengthening federal nutrition research in a live interactive session as part of NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE, a virtual conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).
Featured research from NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE
Press materials are now available for NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE, a dynamic virtual event showcasing new research findings and timely discussions on food and nutrition.
Diet, nutrition have profound effects on gut microbiome
A new literature review from scientists at George Washington University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests that nutrition and diet have a profound impact on the microbial composition of the gut.
Are women getting adequate nutrition during preconception and pregnancy?
In a Maternal & Child Nutrition analysis of published studies on the dietary habits of women who were trying to conceive or were pregnant, most studies indicated that women do not meet nutritional recommendations for vegetable, cereal grain, or folate intake.
Supermarkets and child nutrition in Africa
Hunger and undernutrition are widespread problems in Africa. At the same time, overweight, obesity, and related chronic diseases are also on the rise.
Horse nutrition: Prebiotics do more harm than good
Prebiotics are only able to help stabilise the intestinal flora of horses to a limited degree.
More Nutrition News and Nutrition Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Warped Reality
False information on the internet makes it harder and harder to know what's true, and the consequences have been devastating. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around technology and deception. Guests include law professor Danielle Citron, journalist Andrew Marantz, and computer scientist Joy Buolamwini.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

How to Win Friends and Influence Baboons
Baboon troops. We all know they're hierarchical. There's the big brutish alpha male who rules with a hairy iron fist, and then there's everybody else. Which is what Meg Crofoot thought too, before she used GPS collars to track the movements of a troop of baboons for a whole month. What she and her team learned from this data gave them a whole new understanding of baboon troop dynamics, and, moment to moment, who really has the power.  This episode was reported and produced by Annie McEwen. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at