Care Groups and their Gardens Flourish in Cambodia

In 2016, Action Against Hunger found that at least one in three children in Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia, were chronically malnourished. Our teams set out to change this – focusing on mothers and children and in consultation with community leaders at each step of the program planning and implementation process.

Through our Community-Oriented Multisector Mechanism on Nutrition (COMMON) project, supported by the French Development Agency and Buddhist Global Relief, among other partners, we worked in 22 villages to simultaneously improve gender equality, nutrition, food security, and water, hygiene, and sanitation.

One of the ways our teams worked to improve nutrition and food security was through the Care Group approach, where community volunteers meet regularly with Action Against Hunger staff for training, supervision, and support. Volunteers then pass on these lessons onto their individual Care Groups: 10 to 15 mothers in their communities.

The trainings cover a variety of topics, and one of the most popular topics is how to grow a garden with nutritious crops at home. Below, meet three women who are now seeing the fruits – and vegetables – of their labors.

“I am proud of this yield.”

In her field, Dib Kim Lay consults with one of Action Against Hunger's team members.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Cambodia

Dib Kim Lay, a 33-year-old mother of four in Svay village, is an active participant in a mother-to-mother Care Group and a water user group. She also benefits from Action Against Hunger’s food security activities. An active participant, Kim Lay has learned about a variety of topics, including agriculture, food security, gender, latrine use, and filtered drinking water.

During one of the Care Group sessions, she heard about Sen Kra Ob, an improved rice variety. This organic, non-GMO rice has substantial benefits to traditional kinds of rice: most importantly, the timeline for this rice production is much shorter at 105-120 days from planting to harvest, compared to a 150-180 range for traditional rice seed.

“Most of the participants didn’t believe that the seed that grew in this very short timeframe could be good quality compared to the traditional seed,” says Kim Lay.

Despite others’ skepticism, after the session, Kim Lay and her husband discussed the opportunity and decided to give the new seeds a try. After completing a series of training sessions with Action Against Hunger technical staff, Kim Lay received 15 pounds of Sen Kra Ob rice seed and planted it. Exactly 107 days later, their harvest yielded 330 pounds of rice.

“I am proud of this yield,” says Kim Lay. “My husband and I have decided to keep this seed for next year’s crop, and I know that other families are doing the same.”

The community saw many benefits in the improved rice variety: it required less water, saved families valuable time, and produced an impressive yield compared to the traditional rice variety, which typically needs at least 66 pounds of seed to produce at most 330 pounds of harvested rice.

“The rice yield changed our community’s perception and mindset,” Kim Lay says.

“Breaking the fear”

Chorn Sreypov was chosen by her community members to lead their local Care Group.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Cambodia

Chorn Sreypov, a 26-year-old mother and widow, lives in Traping Sangke lich Village.

“When I first arrived here, the land was crowded with grass!” says Sreypov. “My family didn’t have enough food, since we do not have land for a rice plot or land for agriculture besides the land around the house. To help my family survive, I decided to grow vegetables around my house.”

After joining a Care Group in 2017, Sreypov received vegetable seeds, new techniques, and other support from Action Against Hunger.

“Once, an Action Against Hunger staff member visited my house and they encouraged me to expand my garden by growing more diverse crops,” recalls Sreypov. More crop varieties produce more income at the market. “But I didn’t dare do it. I was afraid of failure, and I didn’t know where I could sell my products.”

Action Against Hunger’s team worked with Sreypov to overcome her fears through training: “I joined a training supported by Action Against Hunger that talked about ‘breaking the fear,’ and this session inspired me to expand my garden.”

That expanded garden - the only source of income for Sreypov’s family – today earns more than $20 a day, and Sreypov is investing her savings to secure their future.  “To ensure that my farm is green all year round, I saved some money from selling vegetables to dig a protected well for my garden, and then we pump it into small plastic tanks.”

In recognition of her success and her advocacy for the Care Group, Sreypov was selected by her neighbors to serve as their Care Group Leader. She helps to manage and facilitate learning sessions and conducts home visits with the 13 Care Group members in her area.

“I also shared techniques to help my Care Group members, and now at least half of my group members are growing vegetables like me,” she says. “Their families eat the vegetables, and some of the vegetables they sell.”

The Care Group members sell their produce both through middlemen and directly at the market. One challenge they currently face is pricing: “We sometimes receive different prices on the same produce,” explains Sreypov. “I think we should gather as a producer group, grow together, and sell together to ensure the prices are not different.”

“From my observations and the information noted during home visits, the situation of my Care Group members is better than before. We rarely have to bring our children to the health center - they are growing.”

“It is simple, but meaningful.”

"We have a beautiful garden," says San Makara, a mother to two children with another on the way.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Cambodia

San Makara, a resident of Peak Sbek Village, is a 27-year old mother of two children under five, with another baby on the way. She participates in a mother-to-mother Care Group as well as Action Against Hunger’s gender and food security activities. In addition to attending regular Care Group sessions, she planted vegetable seeds and received technical support for her garden from our teams.

Makara’s husband serves in the military and is not always at home, which means she takes on most of the household responsibilities, including all housework, childcare, and cooking. To save some time and money by not always having to go to the market for food, Makara wanted to start a vegetable garden at home. With Action Against Hunger, she learned how to prepare her land and then received vegetable seeds to plant.

When project leaders visited the family’s home, they helped Makara  and her husband come up with a household “action plan” - a list of actionable steps that spouses create to achieve goals together – which is designed to help foster equality and shared responsibilities in the home. Makara created a list of ideas she wanted to achieve, including her vegetable garden, and then she and her husband together created their action plan.

In the months ahead, her husband helped her to prepare, water, and fertilize the land. “In the end, we have a beautiful garden. It is simple but meaningful,” says Makara.

They grow a few kinds of crops, including radishes, cucumbers, long beans, and cabbage. Makara’s husband has also played an active role in encouraging their family to eat a more diverse diet.

A few months after they started their garden, it was time to review their household action plan. The couple decided to keep the household garden in the plan so it could continue to support their family year-round. They also decided jointly that Makara should deliver their baby at the local health center rather than having the baby at home.

“I am very happy to have a garden,” she says. “My children are happy to be with me in the garden and they help me with removing the weeds. I am very appreciative for the support I received from Action Against Hunger, and I feel good when the Care Group leader visits my home.”  

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For more than 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.