Cambodia’s Safe Food, Fair Food Project addresses major food safety issues

◊ by Judy Kimani and Chi Nguyen ◊

Cambodia has a rich tradition of tasty and nutritious foods. Animal-source foods (ASFs) are an important part of the cuisine, with the most widely consumed ASF products being pork, fish, and poultry.

Most ASFs in Cambodia are produced by smallholder farmers—many of them women. Much of the food in Cambodia is sold in traditional, outdoor wet markets where women also predominate as retailers. However, the conditions in these markets may also be susceptible to food safety issues, which could result in foodborne illness if not properly addressed. Through support from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, a research project in Cambodia is evaluating the economic burden of foodborne diseases in ASFs value chains that are important to the poor, and it is piloting a market-based approach to improving food safety that builds on projects successfully implemented by the International Livestock Research Institute in Africa and Asia.

A researcher collects information and meat samples from a traditional market in Takeo province, Cambodia. (credit: Sinh Dang)

Safe Food, Fair Food for Cambodia

As in other nations across the globe, concerns over food safety are prevalent in Cambodia, but limited information exists to understand their scope in different types of markets. The Safe Food, Fair Food for Cambodia project was initiated in July 2017 with the aim of assessing the multiple burdens of foodborne diseases associated with key ASF value chains, and to adapt and evaluate a market-based approach to improving food safety. Alongside the University of Florida, the project’s implementation is led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in partnership with Emory University in Atlanta and Cambodia’s National Animal Health and Production Research Institute, as well as the Centre for Livestock and Agriculture Development.

The overall goal of the initiative is to generate evidence and contribute towards reducing the burden of foodborne diseases in informal, emerging formal, and niche markets targeting the small and medium scale producers following a holistic One Health approach. Dr. Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI, is the project’s principal investigator, and the project is coordinated by Dr. Hung Nguyen-Viet, the ILRI regional representative for Southeast Asia. The project’s focus areas are ASF marketing, enabling policies—and after exploratory research—the pig and poultry value chains were prioritized as the focus of the project.

A researcher uses a tablet to record responses from a mother with a young child in Siem Reap province. (credit: Chhay Ty)

Questions about Disease

At the start of the project, little was known about the distribution and overall burden of foodborne diseases in Cambodia. To bridge this information gap, the project approach involved multiple levels of initial risk profiling and situational analysis of food safety. The team focused on the highly nutritious, high-risk livestock pig and poultry value chains in order to estimate the burdens of foodborne disease. Once the burdens of foodborne disease have been assessed, one of these value chains will be selected to pilot a market-based intervention to improve food safety.

One unique aspect of the project is its use of a systematic and structured approach to thoroughly understand food safety issues in ASF value chains in Cambodia. The first step of the project was to profile food safety risks, and then risk assessment and risk management activities were conducted. It made important investments in risk communication and capacity development, which are critical to long-term sustainability of improved food safety in ASF value chains. The risk profiles were developed at the sector level and covered all types of ASFs produced in Cambodia in the formal and informal sectors as well as imported ASFs. Now that the risk profiles have been completed, the project is currently conducting in-depth studies on the specific hazards in the pork and poultry value chains, as well as the health, economic, and nutritional impacts of foodborne illness in urban and peri-urban areas. This research is in progress in the regions around Phnom Penh and the adjacent provinces, including Siem Reap, which have the highest density of pork and poultry.

Participatory Risk Analysis

One of the key research methods used in the project is participatory risk analysis, a combination of risk analysis and participatory learning, which is well suited for research in informal markets. The project takes a gender and nutrition-sensitive approach in the design and implementation of activities. Previous research suggests that since men and women play different and important roles along the value chain, from production through slaughter and processing to sale, considering gender is important to achieve impact in food safety projects.

Given the increasing demand for ASFs in Cambodia as well as increasing concerns over food safety, driven by population growth and urbanization, this area of research is vital.

The project has five objectives with associated activities, outputs, and outcomes. These aim towards enhancing the production, marketing, and consumption of ASFs in order to increase the incomes, livelihoods, nutrition, and health of households—especially those of vulnerable women and children. To achieve these objectives, the project will pilot market-based and light-touch interventions that are sustainable and scalable. The ultimate aim of the project is to change practice through capacity development and incentives, and to improve the enabling policy environment.

Pork and chicken samples from traditional markets undergo laboratory analysis. (credit: Sinh Dang)

Recent Project Outputs

Over the years, this project has made considerable contributions through the various components of its implementation, including capacity building of key stakeholders. The core publications encompass reports, videos, websites, posters and scientific lectures.

Learn more about this project at http://livestocklab.ifas.ufl.edu/projects/dr-delia-grace/.

 

About the authors: Judy is the Communications Specialist based at ILRI Nairobi while Chi is the Communications Specialist providing support to the Safe Food, Fair Food Project in Cambodia.

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