Backed by the U.N., Cambodia on Wednesday launched a national action plan to completely eliminate hunger in the country by 2025, the first step in an ambitious initiative that the government signed on to last year.
The “Zero Hunger Challenge” plan outlines five goals for the country, including eliminating stunting among children under 2 years old, increasing farmers’ productivity and income by 100 percent and establishing durable food production and distribution systems.
“We cannot accept the fact that millions of people are living in hunger in the world,” newly appointed Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said during the plan’s launch at the Council of Ministers building in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
“The national action plan…focuses on intervention and investments in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, rural development, health, education, water resources, clean water, sanitation and social protection,” Mr. Sakhon said.
The plan will be implemented by the agriculture and health ministries with financial and technical support from the U.N., NGOs and private firms, said Kundhavi Kadiresan, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s regional representative.
“Zero hunger means you shouldn’t have any stunting among children,” she said. “We shouldn’t have people begging for food.”
Hunger is defined as a lack of nutrients necessary to engage in regular physical and mental activities. In the latest Global Hunger Index, released in October, Cambodia was identified as experiencing the largest decrease in hunger since 2000 among countries tainted by severe hunger—with the rate cut nearly in half to 14.2 percent of the population.
Eliminating hunger among the remaining 2 million will require broad agricultural and societal changes, Ms. Kadiresan said, explaining that specific goals would be set as the plan moved forward.
“The message we are actually saying is [we need to foster] nutrition-sensitive agriculture,” Ms. Kadiresan said. “From the time of deciding what to cultivate to the point where we bring the food to the plate—it’s farm to fork—how do we make it nutritious?”
The idea that hunger could be eliminated in the next nine years was met with skepticism by some.
Theng Savoeun, secretary-general of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, said one of the main hurdles would be a lack of irrigation, an issue underscored by this year’s dry-season drought.
“We welcome the plan to end the hunger completely,” he said. “[But] the plan to end hunger… would be impossible by 2025.”