Kansas State University


Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification

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

SIIL Supported Graduate Student Finds Employment with Peace Corps Senegal

Fatou Tine is in her last year of her PhD program at the University of Dakar in Senegal, conducting research for her dissertation funded through support from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) at Kansas State University (KSU).

After graduating with a master’s degree from Virginia Tech in May 2016, she decided to return to her home country, Senegal, and contribute to its agricultural development by sharing her knowledge with farmers and young students who are currently training to be tomorrow’s leaders. As excited as she was to return and contribute to the modernization and expansion of her country’s expansive agricultural sector, she, at first, could not find any opportunities open for her to do so, as there were no positions available at the time. Therefore, she spent her first two months in Senegal at home and, from time to time, visiting and assisting friends from university and other research institutions. Fortunately, at the end of her second month back home, she received the opportunity to participate in data collection for a survey on cashew farmers in the Kolda area.

Fatou Tine conducting biomass sampling for research. Photo provided by: Fatou Tine

While conducting this data collection for the National Center of Forestry Research, she met an acquaintance who spoke to her about SIIL and its important role in assisting with sustainable agriculture research in Senegal.  With this funding, aimed at building capacity in SIIL target countries in East and West Africa, as well as Southeast Asia, researchers and students alike,  and youth and women in particular, have the opportunity to be trained in their field, as well as conduct research on their chosen topic.  After meeting with the in-country SIIL team, she was selected as a PhD student in Agronomy, and received funding to do both her studies and her research.

As Fatou observes, “A woman running an agriculture project is not an easy thing to do in Senegal, however, with the support from the wonderful SIIL team, I was able to conduct my field experiments, collect data, and also enjoy time with my family.”

During these last three years, SIIL has not only provided funding for her research, but has also provided several opportunities for personal and professional development through trainings, meetings and other relevant activities. Additionally, working with SIIL has allowed her to improve her knowledge and skills in agriculture, particularly within the Senegalese agricultural system, as well as internationally.

As a result of her time working with SIIL and its partners, most recently she had the opportunity to connect with Peace Corps Senegal, leading to her securing a position with them as an Agriculture Program and Training Specialist. This is especially exciting, as SIIL maintains a close partnership with the in-country Peace Corps program, providing training to new and continuing agriculture Peace Corps volunteers. “I am excited to use my skills professionally and am very grateful for the opportunities that SIIL has provided for me though their support”, says Fatou.


SIIL- Peace Corps training in Senegal. Fatou is third from left in the front row. Photo credit: Peace Corps Senegal Staff

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

Bridging the Gap: Connecting Women in Research, Farming and the Peace Corps

 Photo Credit: LaTrese Taylor

I remember vividly that a desire to travel and have a career in social programs was borne from my grandmother’s dreams, conversations with her, and the humble way in which she lived her life. Up until middle school, our household did not have a television, so listening to the radio led us into countless discussions on social topics in the United States and abroad. Our immediate family gave to churches, to other family members and friends, and of course, to organizations such as “Feed the Children”, which worked extensively in Africa.

Fast-forward thirty-five years. I am now a military retiree and reflecting on a family dynamic that brought an awareness of needs outside of my community and the United States, and making a transition into international development felt like the natural next step, only I didn’t know what that looked like until Peace Corps (PC) Senegal began their work with Kansas State University’s Sustainable Intensification and Innovation Lab (SIIL). In 2018, PC Senegal, SIIL and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) partnered together to demonstrate new agricultural technology and innovations in the fields of PC/Senegal’s Master Farmers. Under this program, Senegalese graduate student Khady Diome came to Keur Bakary, a small village in Senegal, to lead a research site.  She worked on testing millet and fertilizer varieties as well as seed-spacing techniques in the fields of three local farmers.

In conferences and one-on-one discussions, what echoed in my head time and again is that there needs to be an intermediary with the ability to connect more research and pilot projects to government organizations and institutions, as well as smallholder farmers, without a long lead-time. With this trifecta partnership, we are building synergies that will be able to breach this paradigm and, in turn, Master Farmers like Chiekh Dieng can work with researchers to identify more readily technology that has been tailored to his community’s farming practices and challenges, but with “scaled up” benefits for the broader Senegalese farming system.

ISRA researcher Khadi Diome and Master Farmer Chiekh Dieng 
Photo Credit: LaTrese Taylor

As I prepare to wrap up my third year with Peace Corps Senegal, I plan to return to American University in Washington D.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in International Development, with focus in West African Food Security, armed with the hands-on experience in working with researchers. Working with PC Senegal to manage this partnership also gave me a birds-eye view of what research-led youth development looks like in Senegal, and how research that incorporates nutrition-led agriculture, can fit into the greater system. In this particular scenario, my primary role was creating the linkage between the smallholder farmer and the researcher, and while it may have been a small role, it was still one with a potentially large impact in making these type of relations more customary in the future. This theme obviously warrants more discussion and work, and I plan continue working in the international development community to see how that unfolds and how I can contribute to its growth.


LaTrese Taylor

Food Security Peace Corps Volunteer Leader

Peace Corps Senegal 2016-2019