MHOPe – food systems in Cambodia

Did you know m’hope means food in Khmer language? And that rice is so important for the country’s culture that the word for eating, nham bai, also means eating rice? Or that the currency’s name, riel, is inspired by a small fish from the Tonle Sap lake which makes the most of Cambodia’s protein intake and, therefore, crucial for the survival of its people?

MHOPe is a collaborative media project on food systems in Cambodia by Heinrich Boell Foundation (a selection of my photos for it below).

Designed by Heng Chhenglang, our logo is based on Samlor Korko, a traditional Cambodian dish that inspires this project and is used as a starting point for our discussion on food systems in this country. It includes some of the most important ingredients in the recipe which are some of the most crucial elements in Cambodian food culture:

  • TURMERIC, with great health benefits and base for the traditional Kroeung paste
  • MORINGA, a miracle tree with high nutritional content, a local and affordable tool against malnutrition
  • FISH, the main protein source in the country and essential for one of its most iconic dishes, the fermented fish paste Prahok
  • GREEN PAPAYA, as a representation of vegetables commonly included in the soup and, more generally, in Cambodian agriculture
  • RICE, the main staple in Cambodia and used in Samlor Korko as roasted powder named Angkor Ling
  • And finally, not being an ingredient but as important in our project as all the other 5 elements, a representation of FOOD WASTE to symbolize the closing of the loop in our cycle of food, from farm-to-table and table-to-farm, passing thru all steps such as production, distribution, consumption, etc.

Our aim is to raise awareness on the origins of the food that we eat, highlighting the individual and life stories of the workers every step on the path from farm to table, and from table to farm, using a traditional Cambodian dish (Samlor Korko) to talk about the social-economic aspects of nutrition, food security and access to it as a human right. The goals of MHOPe project are:

  • Raising awareness on
    • the origins of the food we eat, every step on the path from farm to table, and from table to farm (e.g. farming, supply chain between producers and consumers, food waste being reused as animal feed or fertilizer, how much is produced local or imported)
    • socio-economic aspect of nutrition (e.g. comparison between urban and rural eating habits, power dynamics and gender relations within the supply chain, current state of malnutrition in rural and urban areas, inequality of access to good nutrition and possible solutions regarding food shortage)
    • new trends of the food/agri-industry and the use of tech/resilience strategies, especially with the impact of the pandemic on the lives of farmers/sellers/consumers (e.g. rise of apps for ordering food, new online entrepreneurs due to job loss, adaptation to market closings with pop-up stalls on the street, new tech to help farmers such QRCode scan for checking origin, online platforms to increase access to markets)
  • Promoting small local agri/eco-businesses and connecting them to wider audiences, comparing new/innovative ways of producing and accessing the market with the traditional/conventional methods (e.g. research on local produce; the role of organic, how dependent is the country on imports from nearby countries, etc.)
  • Create documentation on often overlooked aspects of the informal economy regarding food: production, supply chain, street sellers, waste/informal circular economy through data/visuals and personal stories focused on women exposing the power dynamics and gender relations within the supply chain
  • Advocacy for equal access to nutrition, food as human right instead of consumer product, the current state of malnutrition in the countryside, inequality of access and possible solutions regarding food shortage.

Collaborators: HBS Foundation, Chef Nak, Wapatoa media collective, Angkor Social Innovation Park, Young Eco Ambassador, CompostCity