In Cambodia, rising prices threaten to undernourish thousands of children in one of Asia’s poorest countries and most vulnerable to climate shocks, which relies in particular on school-based agricultural education programs.
There are thousands of tastes of the kingdom in the markets, and buyers and sellers talk only about inflation. With the removal of Covid-19, animation is timidly returning, but international tensions are felt, in particular the war in Ukraine.
In this grim context, some small traders say they have lost half their income, such as Cheon Puti, a noodle vendor in Chroy Neang Nguon (North), a village two hours from Siem Reap.
His customers, who have already been hit economically by the pandemic, are now dwindling, cornered by rising energy prices.
At 31, she, who “sometimes cuts her diet,” now worries about the health of her two children.
At the same time, food prices rose: +5.6% yoy on average, with a peak of 35% for vegetable oil, according to data released in May by the World Food Program (PAO).
“Rising food prices are likely to exacerbate the already high levels of child malnutrition as the country began to show signs of recovery from the economic shock caused by the pandemic,” the United Nations Nutrition Cambodia office said in a statement to AFP.
– “Fears” for their development –
Rampant inflation threatens to undermine efforts to combat child malnutrition. According to the Cambodian government, two out of three children under the age of five were affected in 2014.
At Angkor Children’s Hospital in Siem Reap, cases of malnutrition rose from 59 in 2019 to 77 two years later, including one death of a five-month-old infant.
Sometimes families are so poor that they have to dilute their baby’s milk with water, Sroen Fannsey, a nurse in charge of the food service, told AFP.
“We have concerns about their growth in the future, especially their brain development, which may be weakened by the time they have to go to school, at the age of five or six,” she continues.
Prior to the pandemic, the 2020 floods worsened the situation in a country vulnerable to climate change, especially with long periods of drought reducing crops.
The hospital team travels the countryside to identify the most severe cases before it’s too late. NGOs have also been involved in tackling the problem at the root for years.
– Free breakfasts –
For the past few months, Chung Pao-ti’s family has been dependent on a free school breakfast program of rice, fish soup and vegetables grown in the school garden for their children, which allows her to save money, which she used to give them snacks.
“The community depends on these meals because every morning the parents are busy in the fields and don’t have time to cook for the children,” she explains.
Supported by the World Food Program (WFP), this school meal distribution reaches more than 1,100 institutions.
In the Siam Reap region, about fifty educational gardens where children can learn how to grow their own vegetables have been established by NGOs with the support of WFP.
“This program allows students to get enough nutritious meals and helps them attend classes regularly. It has significantly reduced the rate of absenteeism,” said Long Tov, principal of a school in Chroy Neang Nguon.
There, after lessons in mathematics or science, schoolchildren learn to pick vegetables. Vireak, 12, exults: “We are happy in the garden. At home I grow water spinach, beans and tomatoes.”