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Food Security in Cambodia: A Preliminary Assessment



This paper by Vincent Tickner provides a preliminary assessment of the food security situation in Cambodia. It is based on research carried out in Cambodia between March and October 1995, consisting mainly of a review of secondary sources and interviews with government and agency officials.

The paper provides useful guidance to both researchers and agency personnel dealing with food security issues. It identifies the nature of contemporary food insecurity in Cambodia, arguing that “access”, rather than “availability”, is the key problem, and reveals the way in which a diverse range of agro-ecological, institutional, macro-economic, market, security and social-structural conditions affect food security at national and household levels. The author also assesses what different agencies are — or are not — doing to address food insecurity, asserting that although certain government and international agencies identify food security as a priority development issue, they have not put in place policies, programmes or projects that address directly or systematically food security problems. Neither, he argues, have they considered the food security implications of major policy approaches promoting, for example, trade liberalization, sectoral rehabilitation, state restructuring and private sector development. Nor is there much co-ordination of interventions in this field or integration of agency efforts in a comprehensive food policy or strategy.

The dramatic changes in ideology and régime, as well as the current power-sharing arrangements and the influx of international agencies, have resulted in a diverse, and sometimes contradictory, array of policy and programme approaches towards food security. While some favour rapid liberalization, others promote state-led interventions or “targeting” of vulnerable groups. Yet the poor knowledge base concerning the functioning of food markets, livelihood systems and local vulnerability may render such approaches ineffective in dealing with food insecurity.

Many agencies fail to consider the range of strategies and responses that most Cambodians have developed to help them overcome their food insecurities. The paper recommends that external agencies contemplating food support to food insecure populations should consider how those groups themselves respond to food insecurity and with what success or constraints. In this way agency interventions might build on what food insecure households are already doing to overcome their food insecurity. Employment generating and food supply schemes, particularly during lean periods in rural areas, have an important role to play. Some consideration has been given to employment generation in Cambodia, but this has rarely been preceded by an analysis of the livelihood circumstances of particular groups of households, the constraints they experience in expanding certain types of employment and the nature of rural labour markets.

While in years of normal rainfall Cambodia is only marginally deficient in terms of overall food availability, national food production is periodically threatened by extreme climatic conditions and military conflict. In view of these conditions, the author stresses the need for more permanent preparedness to deal with such situations than is currently the case.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Oct 1996
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD