Feeding Cambodia’s future — local food from the back of a motorbike

WFP Asia & Pacific
Jan 22, 2018 · 4 min read

Oddar Meanchey Province, Cambodia: for the last 3 years, Thida has woken-up, checked her motorbike and spent her day supplying 2,000 Cambodian children with a healthy breakfast.

She’s a supplier, working to collect fresh food from local farms to ensure this reaches hungry students at the start of their school day. For many Cambodian children, breakfast is their main meal of the day. It gives them a boost of energy and nutrients to help them to learn in class, and reach their full potential. World Food Programme has been supporting suppliers like Thida for the past three years to provide fresh ingredients to schools.

Thida uses her motorbike to collect fresh vegetables for schools. Photo: WFP/Ratanak Leng

“I am working with 15 smallholder farmers to supply vegetables and fish/meat to ten primary schools in two communes. I ride by myself to their farms, help them pick up vegetables according to the recipe schedule provided by the schools. After weighing all vegetables and packing them for each school, I distribute this to schools,” Thida described.

“By the end of month, I check all payment balances with schools and the commune chiefs to make sure it is correct. Then I receive a cheque to cash out payment through a local bank,” she added.

Thida was granted a contract from school and commune council to supply food to schools after winning the bidding process in her local commune. The commune chief, school principal and commune council members made a joint decision to hire her.

Thida rides 20–30 kilometers per day on her motorbike, a job that allows her to stay close to home, and learn new skills, like mathematics and accounting. It is also a chance to help her neighbors to earn a steady income from the crops they have grown. In the last 3 years she has grown her network from 5 to 20 farmers, giving even more local families a market for their crops.

Thida and one of the local farmers pick spinach to send to local schools. Photo: WFP/Ratanak Leng

Reoun Ron is one of the farmers who Thida collects vegetables from, and he currently grows spinach and morning glory. Thida visits him 6–7 times per month and collects 30- 40kg of vegetables each time. “The soil here is already rich; I use only cow dung as fertilizer to make my vegetable grow well,” he said.

For Thida, knowing children eat food that is grown locally is a huge benefit of WFP’s home grown school meals programme. WFP requires suppliers to purchase at least 70% of their food from local farmers.

“I think schoolchildren can receive healthy food every day from school since most the meat/fish and vegetables that I have supplied are freshly picked from farms and distributed directly to school kitchens,” Thida said.

It is not just the students and farmers who are benefitting. Over the past 3 years, Thida has earned her own income to complement her husband’s work as a farmer. She also runs their household and manages their finances. ‘‘I am the one who manages and makes decision on the family’s spending- what items we should buy at home and how much I should give to support my children‘s study. I only inform my husband about those expenditures afterwards,’’ Thida said.

A farmer prepares lettuce for Thida to take to the schools — a regular source of income for her. Photo: WFP/Ratanak Leng

Today, two of Thida’s children are studying at university, they too ate school meals that were provided by WFP when they were young. Thida makes sure to send some of her income to them, to support their education.

Choosing, sorting and transporting vegetables has provided Thida with economic independence. Photo: WFP/Ratanak Leng

WFP’s home grown school meals programme, in collaboration with Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport with supports from various donors, is currently supporting some of the most vulnerable children in Cambodia to eat nutritious and diverse meals, 6 days per week. It also has a multiplier effect for suppliers like Thida and the farming community, who now have access to an income, a market and new opportunities.

Students line-up to for breakfast before school starts. Photo: WFP/Ratanak Leng
A healthy meal and some happy students. Photo: WFP/Ratanak Leng.

Story written by Ratanak Leng

Learn more about WFP’s work in Cambodia.

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