No cash, no food. Gendered reorganization of livelihoods and food security in Cambodia

Dr

Fenneke Reysoo

(She/Her)

Honorary Professor

Geneva Graduate Institute

Fenneke Reysoo is an Honorary Professor of Anthropology and the former scientific director of the Gender Centre at the Geneva Graduate Institute.
Dutch

Overview

This research project examines the impact of agricultural commercialization on the right to food and gender equality in Cambodia. 

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.

Key Findings

The more families become dependent on wage labour the less food they cultivate.
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.
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.

    How to apply research

    The discourse surrounding large-scale land acquisition and promoting commercial agriculture needs to change. Although land acquisitions and commercial agriculture do create some jobs, they do rarely benefit local populations. Consequently they lead to impoverishment of small-holder farmers, food shortages/hunger and eventually outmigration from rural areas to the cities. Large-scale commercial agriculture should not be portrayed as a win-win situation.
    Creating jobs for women is often presented as a solution to eradicate poverty. But as long as women bear the lion’s share of reproductive and care work, when entering the labour market they will be exposed to double burdens. Policies to reconcile family-work balance have to accompany jobs for women. This can be done through the creation of childcare opportunities. Such options exist in urban areas, but are greatly absent in rural areas.
    Those involved in policy making and legislation need to consider the protection, fulfilment and respect of the right to food. Legal illiteracy in the field of right to food and gender equality needs to be overcome.
    In rural areas, women often create micro-businesses as it allows them to engage in economic activities while being in close vicinity of the home. However, they are often small scale and more research needs to be done to understand how women can further commercialise their products.
    The Cambodian government should be held accountable to the international conventions that it has signed, which includes the right to food and gender equality. International conventions are an excellent tool of leverage to initiate change.
    In rural areas, women often create micro-businesses as it allows them to engage in economic activities while being in close vicinity of the home. However, they are often small scale and more research needs to be done to understand how women can further commercialise these products.

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      About this research

      This journal article was part of a collaborative effort

      Christophe Gironde

      Andres Torrico Ramirez

      Seng Suon

      This research was funded by both the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss National Science Foundation

      Recommended for

      UN Sustainable Development Goals

      This research contributes to the following SDGs

      About this research

      This research was funded by both the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss National Science Foundation

      This paper was co-authored

      Christophe Gironde

      Andres Torrico Ramirez

      Seng Suon

      Recommended for

      What findings means

      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.

      Methodology

      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.

      Glossary

      Right to Food
      A more binding concept as it is framed in the context of human rights, it can be used to uphold government accountability.
      AAA of the Right to Food
      Availability of food through production, reserves, trade; Accessibility through wages, production, food security programmes; Adequacy the availability of food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances, and acceptable within a given culture.

      The full paper is not available open access

      Christophe Gironde, Fenneke Reysoo, Andres Torrico Ramirez & Seng Suon (2021) ‘No cash, no food. Gendered reorganization of livelihoods and food security in Cambodia’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 48:7, 1485-1506

      Thank you to

      for helping to prepare this research