A second participatory activity during the August conference examined SUN programming in Cambodia. It asked participants to decide as a group which three key recommendations they would give in response to questions such as:
- “What are your recommendations for improved youth engagement in nutrition in Cambodia?
- ‘How can youth gain more respect for their voice and opinions when it comes to nutrition and healthy diets? and
- What are the key actions we should be including in the recovery plan for COVID-19 to ensure that nutrition remains a part of the agenda for recovery?”
The October conference, Working with Youth for Strengthening Food Systems for Healthy Diets, spanned eight provinces and hosted a total of 316 junior professionals working at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and provincial officials, who met the youth age criteria. To gauge Cambodian youths’ current knowledge and interest in nutrition, CARD, FAO, WHO and other members of SUN networks worked in partnership, with funding from WHO and additional support from German Development Cooperation (GIZ). HKI also engaged through the participation of its YNC representatives to act as facilitators. The organizers designed activities that focused on food systems to facilitate discussions amongst youth and listen to their opinions. A third goal was to motivate youths to consider their own diets and to help their peers to do the same.
Of the two events, Bormey felt that the first, held at the Council of Ministers, had the most impact. “We worked with the SUN assessment plan for 2020,” she recalls. “That’s where young people had more say and could shape programs for the upcoming year and [conclude which elements were] more impactful.” The proximity of youth to decision-makers from Government, the UNN and other actors active in the country’s SUN Movement had a profound impact, according to Chinda and Bormey. It gave the youth a sense of how policy decisions are made, as well the value of their contributions.
One of the goals of the Royal Government of Cambodia is to ensure that youth are actively engaged in an effort to reach its SDG 2 targets for ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition. The commitment to engage with youth comes from the highest levels of the government. This began in 2017, when The Samdech (Honorable) Prime Minister Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen instructed CARD to cooperate with the relevant ministries and institutions to set up the group of Youth Nutrition Champions. During the Seventh National Nutrition Day celebration on 6th November 2020, he further stressed the need to encourage youth participation in the field of food security and nutrition and promoted nutrition education for students through services in schools. ‘’We must mobilize young people to learn how to cook Khmer food and promote eating a variety of food through the traditional Khmer diet, using salt, sugar, oil and other flavour additives at an appropriate level and supporting Khmer food products that are rich in nutrients and safe,” the Samdech Prime Minister said at the event.
“In the past, youth have not been given much voice, and we see that as something we want to correct,” Iean from FAO comments. The ultimate goal for youth is “linked to our national strategy for food security and nutrition, where gender and youth are cross-cutting issues embedded in the strategy. Our vision is to engage youth as a prime stakeholder and decision-makers in relation to their own diet and influence behavior change.” Ultimately, “to empower youth,” he emphasizes.
Hands-on Learning and Fun
Before COVID-19 struck, a prototype for the camp had already been tested by Bormey and her team of YNCs. Activities were designed to appeal to youth as well as give them valuable skills to participate in nutrition policy. Tertiary students who are currently studying or show an interest in food security and nutrition, agriculture or food systems would take part in discussions with experienced staff and peers involved with food systems, go on field trips to organic farms and food processing plants and work alongside government, NGO and UN staff. The programme emphasized small group work, where participants will design improved food systems based on their field visits.
“Targeting mainly youth who are students is a deliberate decision in order to test this innovative approach in Cambodia and evaluate whether it could be a successful means to engage and raise awareness amongst the broader youth population. In addition, it can be expected that tertiary students may become more influential in the future to have a greater impact on Sustainable Food Systems,” Iean explains. The endeavor is an example of strong joint programming, with participation from CARD, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, HKI, GIZ, WHO, the EU-FAO FIRST Programme, UNICEF and WFP. It is also aligned with the 2nd National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition (2019–2023).
Looking forward to the camp as well as other YNC activities in the upcoming year, Bormey notes how far the group has come already. “We have held many events, and I’m starting to see the impact of the programs. We are reaching most of the goals we set in 2018: to train young people and to establish national and sub-national networks as well. We are now working on establishing a national and sub-national platform for youth nutrition. In the future, I want to see YNC’s have an impact on their communities. We look forward to training more young people on the topics of healthy diets and nutrition advocacy. That’s our plan for the next year.”
 This stands for the Food and nutrition security Impact, Resilience, Sustainability and Transformation programme.
 Government of Cambodia, Youth Nutrition Champions, United Nations Cambodia, HKI and GIZ. 2020. The 2020 Youth Assessment for the SUN Movement in Cambodia: Guidelines for group discussion. Phnom Penh.
 Unofficial translation of remarks by Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, delivered during the 7th National Nutrition Day (November 6, 2020): “Strengthening Food Systems for Healthy Diets.”
 Plans for the upcoming Youth Nutrition Camp, a three-day event for learning about nutrition and networking, have been put on indefinite hold due to COVID-19. Organizers from FAO, CARD and other stakeholders are waiting for COVID-19 levels to subside and/or the vaccine before they begin.
Photo 1: HKI/Mr. Van Ponlork
Photo 2: Independent/Will Conquer
Photo 3: HKI