Kansas State University


Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification

Tag: Cambodia

Committed to Learning… and Growing

Soa Phourn participates in one of her graduate classes at the University of Battambang.

“It didn’t feel good when they said that I’m big, like an older person, when I
joined school. But I felt, like, I want to study,” Soa Phourn describes
beginning primary school. “I felt shy because I’m the oldest person in the
school. Others were only like six years old they started grade one, but for
me, starting at 10, it wasn’t good.”

Soa Phourn started school four years late. Not because of a lack of desire to study, but because her family lived out in the rice fields, far from the village school. Only when she was 10 years old did the family move to the village,
making studying possible. Yet she persevered and has now gone through 17
years of studies, currently pursuing her master’s degree in Sustainable
Agriculture at the University of Battambang (UBB).

Soa Phourn has not only overcome obstacles to achieve her educational
goals, but she’s also defied the odds. In Cambodia, only 12
percent of the female population in 2017 was enrolled in tertiary education
(UNESCO, 2019). Soa Phourn is in an even more select group in that she’s
now completing graduate studies. Despite the small proportion of women
pursuing higher education and the taboos against it, Soa Phourn has never
lost her determination.

Soa Phourn interprets an interview with a local farmer from Khmer to English for the Cambodia WAgN project.

Soa Phourn became involved in Feed the Future in 2019 through the
Cambodia Women in Agriculture Network (WAgN) Project implemented
by The Pennsylvania State University. When Penn State graduate student
Emily Southard needed an interpreter to conduct her thesis fieldwork on
gender in vegetable value-chains, Soa Phourn’s professors at the UBB
eagerly recommended her.

“Soa Phourn has been instrumental in the success of my research,” Emily
explains. “She has helped me to understand customs, has gone above and
beyond in the research, and we have both learned so much from one

The collaboration between the two students has not only benefited Emily by
strengthening her research, it has also benefited Soa Phourn, both financially
and educationally. Soa Phourn explains that participating as a translator has
helped her support her education, improve her English, and also develop
skills she’ll use when she fulfills her goal of owning her own farm. “I also
learn from working with you, when I interview a seller or trader. I think that
I can learn a lot from the trader or the seller about having a business. If I
want to start a farm, I need to learn from them.”

Soa Phourn identifies plants at the plant shop at UBB.

Working as part of the Cambodia WAgN project was actually not Soa
Phourn’s only contribution to the work of Feed the Future, however.
She has also interned at the Feed the Future funded sustainable
intensification experiment farm operated in tandem with UBB. This farm
has given many UBB students exceptional hands-on experience to
conduct research, gain horticultural skills, and improve business skills as
they sometimes sold produce from the farm.

For Soa Phourn, these opportunities from Feed the Future have been
essential to her ability to continue to fund her education. She has taken
on a variety of jobs to subsidize her education, including providing
interpreting services to other research projects and working at the plant
shop at UBB, pictured above.

These opportunities allow Soa Phourn to overcome the discouraging
judgment she receives from some neighbors in her village who frown on
her pursuit of higher education. These neighbors say that a “person that
always studies always spends their family’s money and never earn any
income to support their family.” Through these opportunities, she’s able
to better support herself and depend less on her family to assist her.

Soa Phourn is determined to prove these neighbors wrong. She plans to
combine the education she’s received with the business skills she’s learned
from working hands-on with farmers and sellers, such as through the
Cambodia WAgN project. She aspires to be an entrepreneur, she explains
“because when I work, then I just earn a salary, only a salary. But when I study agriculture, I can make a business and earn more money.”
Her ultimate goal is to earn enough money by running her own farm to
reunite her family, as her sisters are all currently migrant workers in Thailand.
“I have always hoped that one day I can make… more money to bring my
sisters back from Thailand to live in Cambodia. I want them to not
have to live far away from my mother.”

Soa Phourn’s experiences, accomplishments, and ambitions demonstrate how
Feed the Future is contributing to its goals of empowering women,
encouraging youth involvement in agriculture, and increasing agricultural
productivity. Through Soa Phourn’s involvement in Feed the Future, she has
been able to help fund her education and overcome obstacles. As a result, she
is among the small proportion of Cambodian women pursuing graduate
education, despite getting a late start in school due to her rural upbringing. By
achieving her aspirations in agricultural entrepreneurship, Soa Phourn hopes
to become a mentor in the community for other young women and youths
who want to pursue agriculture. Her education in horticulture and sustainable
agriculture will allow her to be an efficient, productive, sustainable, and
successful farmer, strengthening Cambodia’s agricultural sector.

Soa Phourn at the University of Battambang.

Article written by Emily Southard - graduate student from the Pennsylvania State University, USA

A Cambodian University Student’s Research Helps Improve Animal Clinic

Ban Naiheak, BSc in Veterinary Medicine at the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA), Cambodia, shows off the E.Coli bacteria she colonized in Microbiology Lab at RUA.

Ban Naiheak, a 22-year-old student at the Royal University of Agriculture, moved from a rural province in Cambodia to live with her aunt in Phnom Penh in order to pursue her education. Ms. Naiheak is majoring in Veterinary Medicine and she has just completed her research for her thesis and is ready to defend. Her research topic is “Antimicrobial Resistance Profiles Found in a Case Study of Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) from Cohabitant Pets and Environment at Animal Clinic in Phnom Penh.”

Ms. Naiheak is considered to be one of the more promising students in her cohort, according to many of her professors, and has been able to continue her studies thanks to a grant from CE SAIN in March 2019, funded by USAID though the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL) at Kansas State University.

“I was not so sure if my thesis research could continue since it needed huge financial support and I would definitely have had to change the topic to be simpler […], but my thesis was made possible because my application for grant thesis support was accepted. I was so happy to hear that,” she stated.

In addition to studying, Ms. Naiheak worked as a part-time administrator at the university. During the first stage of her thesis research, she volunteered at an animal clinic to collect samples from puppies for three months. Seeing that  she was so busy with her schoolwork, the university gave her permission to take a three-month break from work to focus on her research. Ms. Naiheak has said that the past three months were a hard time for her, however, it was a great opportunity to learn new knowledge and gain experience outside of the classroom. She also received great support from her supervisors and assistance with her research through their advice, She was also able to come and work in the microbiology lab as often she needed.

Her thesis has two main objectives: firstly, she wants to research the the presence of E. coli bacterial resistance in puppies and the animal clinic environment. Secondly, she wants to find out what types of existing treatments currently available can effectively treat puppies afflicted with E. coli bacterial infections. She says that the bacteria could be transmitted from the puppies to the environment, and even humans. When humans become exposed to the same kind of resistant bacteria, it came become very hard to treat. “My research is not a big topic that [will help all of] society,” she said, “but it will help the animal clinic to have a deeper understanding of this certain issue and help provide [people with] the research documentation that they can go and read.”

Ban Naiheak performs tests on bacteria in the Microbiology Lab at RUA.

Ms. Naiheak did encounter some challenges when the results of her research did not match to her hypothesis. In once instance during her research, she chose her sample from puppies that had diarrhea and was under three months old. She expected the result to be positive for the E. coli bacteria, but it came back negative. She will need to defend her findings and explain to the thesis committee the reasons  for these differences. She says that knowing the history of the puppies’ background is very important and it helps to understand why the puppies got sick.

Naiheak wishes to pursue her master degree and do in-depth research on E. coli bacteria and how it can effect the environment and humans. At the moment, she is not sure of her eventual career goals, but she would like to find a job where she can share her knowledge and experience with other people.

 “I would like to say thank you very much to CE SAIN and USAID for providing this grant to support undergraduate students on our research theses. Your support [has been] a big contribution to make our thesis research happen. Without your support, my preferred topic for the research thesis would not [have] happened. –Ban Naiheak

-Submitted by Manel Mao, CE SAIN Program Manager

Sustaining the Future of Cambodian Agriculture


Engaging young people in agriculture is a crucial priority to maintain the food supply and economy.

We’ve seen the seemingly trend-line here in the United States for the last century: it’s difficult to engage youth on the farm.

Similar challenges also exist in Cambodia. Not only do the young people not want to stay in the countryside on the farm, they often want to move to the larger urban areas. This migration of youth could have dire consequences for the future of agriculture in a country where most of the population is dependent on farming.

The government is addressing the problem by exposing young people to the opportunities in agriculture and making an agriculture education more attractive and affordable.

And a group of USAID-affiliated researchers is doing their part to help.

Continue reading “Sustaining the Future of Cambodian Agriculture”

Sustainable Intensification Promotes Inclusive Farming Practices

Innovation Lab addresses agricultural gender inequality in Cambodia through leadership, education and mechanization. (Photo credit: Molly Webb, SIIL)

Researchers with USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) take a holistic approach to their work, looking at the ways in which their innovations affect all aspects of a farmer’s life. For SIIL investigators, gender dynamics are a constant issue of importance.

“The one thing we know is that so much is changing for women around the world. We want them to know enough so that they can respond to that change in positive and productive ways,” said sociologist Cornelia Flora, Emeritus Professor at Iowa State University, research professor at Kansas State University and member of the SIIL’s External Advisory Board.

In Cambodia, for example, gender equality is a national priority, but problems still persist.

“Male family members are moving away from villages into cities or going to other neighboring countries to find employment,” said Vara Prasad, director of the SIIL. “But the families still have to continue farming because they have the land and they can’t waste that, so those who are left must take over the farm. Those individuals are primarily women.”  Continue reading “Sustainable Intensification Promotes Inclusive Farming Practices”