Food and nutrition availability and access in Cambodia is predominantly driven by weather-dependant rice production, animal and fish raising. Although Cambodia has produced a national surplus of rice since 1995/96, access to rice at the household level has fluctuated because of unstable rainfall patterns and a lack of productive means or purchasing power.
This situation has a negative impact on livelihoods, and has led to the adoption of negative coping strategies to meet food requirements. These strategies include increased seasonal migration, child labour, withdrawal of students from school (especially girls), altered food patterns towards less expensive, and often less nutritious, food and reduced intake of food, especially for women and older girls. This perpetuates a cycle of health issues, debt, deforestation and sale of livestock and land.
Inadequate economic opportunities in rural areas, limited access to land for small farmers, mine/unexploded ordinance contamination, low agricultural productivity and poor infrastructure have led to a limited access to productive employment opportunities and an increase in food prices over the last several years.
According to the 2008 Cambodia Development Research Institute (CDRI) about 12 percent of households, or 1.7 million individuals, were food insecure and most of these households were affected by increases in food prices. About 50 percent of such households reported cutting back on food as their coping mechanism, while school drop-out rates increased from 13 percent in January 2008 to 22 percent in June of the same year. The study also indicated that the number of food insecure families could increase to include up to 20 percent of the population, or 2.8 million people, in the 2008 lean season.
A CMDG progress report in 2010, showed that the poverty line in Kampong Cham province was one of the higher in Cambodia. One of the major constraints for rural productivity is the low skill level in the workforce; about 75 percent of rural workers have only a primary education or less, and possess no skills training other than family tradition in agriculture. High levels of illiteracy, especially among older women in rural areas, are another barrier to expanding skills training and greater productivity.
Self-employment is a more viable option than employment for newly trained unpaid family workers in both rural and urban areas. However, most institution based training has little curriculum dedicated to self-employment or micro enterprise management.
Linked with education and vocational training, is the need to further expand agricultural extension services for improved farming and market integration. The extension and technology transfer strategy needs to focus, in particular, on the vital role women play in the food chain.