Eating Organic, Growing It Yourself

Monday, July 14, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: Booth 61
Oral Presentation
Rany PEN , Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
There are many things to talk about when discussing organic food, from class to gender, ethics, health, cross-border supply chains, environment, food-security. In Cambodia the discourse of organic food has emerged during this past decade, especially as result of the increasing unregulated food import from neighboring countries. It has become even more worrisome as local farmers wildly use chemical inputs without proper skills and State control.  

Ironically, for many rural Cambodians, the question of organic food seems to be less relevant. For them, organic food is normal. It is what they produce or source locally in the village. Instead, their important questions are about feeding their families and balancing this immediate need with caring for nature, ensuring that their land remains fertilized and cultivable for the younger generations.    

This paper focuses on organic rice, the main agriculture crop in Cambodia. Even though the country is self-sufficient at the national level and produces surplus for export, pressure to reach export targets leads to big farms using more chemical inputs, which they can easily get from the market. Hence rice is not always organic as local people have thought. As such, many high-income households carefully source it from local markets or directly from farmers they know, creating a unique network of producers-consumers. Interestingly, some people have started farming rice for their own consumption and have minimize purchasing it from the market. We have also seen increasing number of ethical organic food suppliers, those managed by non-governmental organizations or private owned businesses.

This paper uses two contrasting cases of organic rice farming from two provinces in Cambodia to illustrate how this organic rice is produced differently and how social status, household incomes, and community development programs influence and shape the decision of producing and consuming organic rice.