Large-scale acquisition means that it is harder for small-hold farmers to access land and natural resources in those areas; they lose both their own land and access to natural resources such as forests, water and grazing grounds. As a result farmers turn to export-orientated cash crops to earn an income.
Often the return on cash crops does not cover expenses; that can be for agricultural inputs and/or current expenses including schooling, health costs, and food. Families have to buy food due to less of their own food cultivation. As a result, the more families become dependent on wage labour the less food they cultivate, especially if women have to engage in wage labour. However, families in which women decide on cultivation, they tend to have more plots and gardens for own food production.
There is also a gender difference on what wages are spent on: women are more likely to spend their wages on food for the household, which contributes positively to food diversity. Yet, as they are increasingly involved in off-farm wage work, they have less time to spend on cooking which is detrimental to household dietary diversity.
The local job market has limited opportunities for women though. Jobs created through land concessions tend to target men, due to the gendered division of farming and use of heavy machinery. As a result, women become increasingly dependent on men’s earnings. Women, especially those with young children, cannot simply engage in work as they bear the reproductive burden. Women who have less money to spend on food, have to make cutbacks, often the most expensive items, such as meat and fish are kept out of the diet.
The agrarian transition that unfolds under our eyes leads to the complex situation that food is available on an emerging local food market, but that food is not accessible for all year round. Small-holder farmers are greatly engaging in off-farm work to earn an income in order to buy food.
The local labour market being highly gendered, it is more difficult for women to access wage work. This makes them more dependent on their husbands. And when women engage in wage work, it reduces their time spent on the preparation of meals. Overall, the diets are affected, and often families eat lesser meals of lower quality.
Questionnaire with 211 semi-structured interviews with farmers (101 women and 110 men). Focuses on three provinces: Ratanakiri, Kratie and Kampong Thom. Carried out between January and May 2016.
However, it is worth noting that land right and gender equality issues are high on the political agenda in Cambodia, although rather controversial. A well connected political elite manages to defends its own interests, often by violating basic human rights of local populations. Our research illustrates the problematic relationship between the right to food and gender equality when promoting capital intensive large-scale export-oriented commercial agriculture.