The COVID19 pandemic is exacerbating an issue that we have worked on for over ten years now: Food Security. Where we work in Cambodia, this issue has translated into an alarming situation in which 40% of Cambodia's children have their cognitive development and growth stunted.
That is why our work on aquaponics has been so important there, as it provides a source of protein and income for families while preserving water. But in the age of a new pandemic, these features resonate deeply in people's minds. And not only for the families we serve half a world away, but also here at home, in the minds of the people that support our work.
Accordingly, we are launching an effort to provide help in the villages while also bringing our aquaponic training program online for the masses. The communities we serve are certainly extremely exposed, but everyone in the world is facing the same uncertainty.
"On April 21, the United Nations projected that because of COVID19, the number of people facing severe food insecurity worldwide could double to 265 million. The same week, in the United States, the five-week total of job losses rose to a staggering 26 million, pushing millions more into food insecurity." Source: Center for International Strategic & International Studies.
While Cambodia has had a low count on COVID19 cases, the tourism industry, which represents a good third of its GDP, has taken a severe hit. Ticket sales for Angkor Wat fell over 99% last month compared with the same time the previous year. As a result, many remain unemployed with absolutely no other safety net than their families. This is why many people return to their village, where food may be scarce, but at least some can always be found.
In rural Cambodia, where our team and the people we serve live, many rely on foraging and fishing, like they would in the face of other hardships. Not so long ago, many had to rely on the forest for food while fleeing the turmoil and violence of war. This situation lasted much longer than most realize, as Cambodia did not fully find peace until the 1990s.
But today, we are learning that a pandemic can put just as much strain on the supply and value chains that govern people's food security. Here in the United States, farmers in Idaho are duping potatoes that cannot find buyers. During that same week, the San Antonio Food Bank, Texas was struggling to meet the demand.
The recently published Global Nutrition Report (2020) highlights the global nature of the problem quite well, stating that malnutrition is the "leading cause of death and ill-health in the world." The report further explains that a large part of the problem relates to access to healthy foods, such as fresh produce and lean protein sources. These findings may be troubling, but they arguably make aquaponics a great solution to address these problems when thousands of families lined up for distributions.
These times may be challenging and uncertain, but it is essential to remember that many social innovations have been born in difficult times. And examples abound from the financial institutions dating back to the Great Depression, to the technologies that made our world more environmentally sustainable during the two Oil Shocks.
In that spirit, we want to bring together the communities we serve in Cambodia with their supporters and backers around aquaponics & food security. Join us in this effort by helping raise the resources necessary to get the seeds and other essential supplies to those who need them the most in Cambodia! As you help us achieve our goal, you will be supporting a family (or more!) while giving our team of trainers the tools they need to bring their knowledge online.
As part of this campaign, we will also be releasing short-form videos, a virtual visit of our campus, as well as a short web documentary. We are happy to share in this post the very first installment of the short-form series. Aurélie Fischer, a professional photographer & videographer who decided to stick around in the villages during the pandemic, produced this content. We are very grateful for her courage and talent!
More content from her and our team is coming up soon!
Sources & Further Reading:
Community First and its board of directors are delighted to announce that President Pierre Mainguy and Chief Operating Officer and Director of Research & Development Romain Rak have been jointly nominated for a Rotary Humanitarian Award in the “Knowledge Sharing” category for their achievements in bringing aquaponics to remote communities in Cambodia.
Over the past years, they have brought together their respective skills to create sustainable food systems to fight off malnutrition and empower families economically. The project has been receiving a great deal of attention from Rotary Clubs worldwide as it addresses all six areas the Rotary International Foundation has strategically decided to focus on: promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, empowering/saving mothers and children, supporting education and growing local economies.
The Rotary Humanitarian STAR (Science, Technology, Aerospace, Robotics) Awards, recognizes outstanding scientific and technological achievements with significant humanitarian benefit. Its purpose is to honor and bring to light achievements to support, advance and inspire humanitarian accomplishments. The Rotary Club of Sierra Madre in conjunction with other Rotary clubs, embodying the pursuit to serve humanity, offers the Rotary Humanitarian STAR Awards.
Throughout the years, the award has recognized people like Larry Sanger, who is credited with creating and enforcing many of the policies and strategies that made Wikipedia possible during its formative years, Jim Marggraff, nominated for his lifelong learning and development, improving the human condition through Virtual and Augmented Reality and Dr. Mihri Ozkan for her new battery technology for electric vehicles which uses organic matter and inexpensive, abundant renewable resources.
Perhaps the most notable laureate of the award is Frances H. Arnold, PH.D., Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at CalTech. Her recognition at the Rotary STAR Awards was shortly followed by her winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the directed evolution of enzymes," according to the award citation.
Directed evolution, pioneered by Arnold in the early 1990s, is a bioengineering method for creating new and better enzymes in the laboratory using the principles of evolution. Today, the method is used in hundreds of laboratories and companies that make everything from laundry detergents to biofuels to medicines. Enzymes created with the technique have replaced toxic chemicals in many industrial processes. Read the New York Times article here.
Community First is honored to have its leaders be nominated for such a prestigious award and is grateful for the support of its donors who empowered them to bring local solutions to the global problems of poverty with aquaponics. This nomination would not have been possible without your support.
The Fourth Annual Rotary Humanitarian STAR Awards will be held on February 6, 2020 at University Club in Pasadena, located at 175 N Oakland Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101, from 5:30pm-9pm. Tickets include “Meet the Scientists”, reception with free drinks, followed by the banquet and Awards ceremony (which includes talks by award recipients).
Did you know that over 40% of children in Cambodia have their growth stunted by malnutrition? This means that almost half of the children there have their cognitive and motor development impaired because their mother was unable to provide adequate nutrition in the prenatal and neonatal stages of her infant’s life.
This statistic from UNICEF has earned Cambodia a spot on the United Nation’s list of alarming countries, as stunting in the long-run also has immense and lasting health repercussions on populations. You can learn more about the phenomenon of stunting with this World Health Organization video:
This is why District 5300 and Community First, an international nonprofit based in Pasadena have joined forces this Rotary year to spread a solution that empowers mothers in rural areas to produce bountiful and nutritional harvests all year long. This is made possible through the innovative farming techniques of aquaponics.
Aquaponics is an agricultural system that brings together the best of fish farming and vegetable gardening with using as little water as possible, using a hydroponic system. By farming this way and without using soil, villagers are able to produce crops for their own subsistence or to sell at local markets.
Mrs. Tap of Smach village explains that she and her fellow aquaponic farmers were the only ones able to farm during the dry season. Her vegetable sales were so successful she was able to finance a small truck which she will use to bring her harvest to neighboring villages.
This one-of-a-kind project helps the people of Sen Sok, Cambodia preserve their water through the drought while allowing the most vulnerable farmers to meet their subsistence need or create a small business. But perhaps most importantly, it helps provide a source of better nutrition which empowers mothers to provide better nutrition to their children, allowing them to reach their full potential.
Community First has been working in Sen Sok and Cambodia for the past 10 years. During that time it has raised $1.3 million dollars and has impacted the lives of over 20,000 people by giving them access to clean drinking water, continuing education and helping provide almost a million school lunches in rural Cambodia.
Today, Community First’s aquaponics program in rural Cambodia is so successful that it has a waiting list. This is why the organization is teaming up with Rotary District 5300, its International Committee and local youth groups in order to help equip 100 families with their own systems and train them. In order to do so, Rotary Clubs and other service groups are invited to donate or help raise or crowdfund $2,000 per family, which will provide for a greenhouse, an aquaponic system, and support and training from the Community First team for a year.
This effort was fast-tracked last week when over $10,000 worth of scholarships for new aquaponic trainers were sponsored at Community First’s fall fundraiser at the Valley Hunt Club in Pasadena, CA. These new trainers will be able to teach the skills and techniques mothers will need to successfully farm throughout the drought and build a successful business from their aquaponic system. In this video, you can meet Mab, our head trainer who will be in charge of teaching the new trainers:
These aquaponic systems can be seen and fully experienced at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA every Saturday at the Ranch’s open house from 10 AM to 1 PM. Community First uses this demonstration site for educational purposes with local schools but welcomes the general public as well, so come and learn how about climate change resilience and food security with us!
For all inquiries and having this project presented at your service Club, school or other institution, please contact us through this website.
Learn more about the issues Community First is working to address with this video from the World Health Organization (WHO) on malnutrition and stunting and our latest video on aquaponics in Cambodia:
Stunting is largely irreversible: a child cannot recover height in the same way that they can regain weight. Stunted children fall sick more often, miss opportunities to learn, perform less well in school and grow up to be economically disadvantaged, and more likely to suffer from chronic diseases.
It’s an incredibly productive summer at the Community First farm school in Sen Sok. As with the past five years, we had the pleasure of hosting a volunteer team from the University of Edinburgh, Engineering. Thanks to our donors and supporters, we were able to build three additional family systems in the village of Angkaol and people are excited to get started growing vegetables and raising fish year-round!
Families are farming Chinese cabbage and morning glory for their own consumption, and the Tap family has started making some money from their cucumber farming. Thanks to our drought-resistant systems, they’re able to sell their crop for $2.50 per kilogram at the local market! The Rath family, on the other hand, has been able to feed their family which includes seven children by focusing on the aforementioned fast-growing crops.
Whether a family seeks to be economically empowered or the ability to feed themselves year-round in a country where 40% of children have their growth stunted because of malnutrition, our aquaponic systems get the job done!
In addition to expanding our outreach program, we were able to expand the farm school’s main aquaponic system. Thanks to the support of the Rotary Club of San Marino, we were able to build concrete fish tanks that will bring our overall capacity from 2,700 liters to 20,000 liters!
Volume aside, the fact that these brand new tanks are compartmentalized also means that we will be able to diversify the fish farming side of our aquaponic activities. We’re eager to experiment with new species like prawns and crayfish to change things up a bit. These aquatic animals being bottom feeders will also play a role in keeping our water clean. The rosenbergii variety of freshwater prawn is actually found throughout the Mekong river and is considered a delicacy here in Cambodia.
If you want to get involved, you can help by becoming a sustaining donor. $30 a month helps us fund our introductory training program for a family while $50 per month will us lift families out of subsistence and into abundance with advanced training. $75 per month helps us coach farmers like the Tap family to turn their aquaponic activity in a small business. Consider becoming a donor today and become a patron of social innovation and climate change adaptation!
If you’d like to learn more and are based in the greater Pasadena area, consider visiting our demonstration system at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino. Our team is there every week at the Ranch’s open house on Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM (learn more).
The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA has offered space in its experimental and permaculture site known as “The Ranch Garden” for Community First to house an aquaponics unit so that visitors can learn about this innovative agricultural method. Members of the Community First team will be joining the weekly open houses in the Ranch Garden, held every Saturday from 10 AM to 1 PM on the grounds of the Huntington, so come and see us!
Over the past ten years, the Pasadena-based international nonprofit Community First has been hard at work bringing social innovation to the forgotten rural communities of Cambodia. In that time, in great part thanks to the support of Rotary International, Community First has been able to provide clean drinking water to over 10,000 people as well as renewable energy and new farming techniques to the villages around Angkor Wat in Northern Cambodia.
In this part of the world where 40% of children are stunted because of malnutrition (UNICEF), Community First recognized subsistence farmers could not grow the food they needed and introduced them to aquaponics. It allows them to raise fish and grow vegetables in a closed ecosystem located on the farm. Such a system ensures a balanced, protein-rich diet even during the dry season.
This has helped families to better provide for themselves and had a dramatic impact on single mother families. Thanks to Community First’s ongoing training in the villages, families are able to farm high value-added crops for themselves, but also for sale. Every year, over a million tourists, visit the Angkor Wat temples, but few eat locally farmed produce as most hotels and restaurant rely on food imports. Local aquaponics farming offers an opportunity to re-establish local produce supply.
The combined impact of aquaponics on health and nutrition and the economic opportunity it offers has generated great interest in the world of international development. As a result, Rotary International’s District 5300 Governor selected this project as their international initiative of choice for the year. As part of this partnership, individual clubs in the greater Pasadena, High Desert and Las Vegas areas plan to partner in bringing aquaponics where it is most needed, starting July 1, 2019.
Rotarians will be volunteering their time to travel and provide financial support for the cover the material and training necessary for families to start their aquaponic businesses. In addition, Community First and Rotary will be bringing aquaponics to the local youth and the community at large here in Southern California in order to spread awareness and the opportunity to touch the lives of others around the world.
Download the full press release here:
Join us Saturday May 11, 2019 from 3:30PM to 5:30PM in San Marino, CA for the unveiling of our family aquaponic system. These systems are used to help mothers feed their families in drought-stricken Cambodia, and you can see them in action this weekend!
Are you interested in aquaponics, but never got around to see a real system that you could use at home? Did you ever consider growing some of your own food, or are you just interested in the science of how fish fertilizes plants that you can eat? Have you ever wondered how much of an impact this can have in people's lives around the world? Come and join us on Saturday, May 11 and you will learn about all of the above!
We’re delighted to invite you to the unveiling of Community First’s first-ever family aquaponics system outside of Cambodia, right here in the greater Pasadena Area!
This aquaponic system will premiere at the Rotary District 5300 Assembly & Conference in Anaheim this weekend but will be for you to see up-close Saturday, May 11th from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM at the home of the Hung Family by the Old Mill in San Marino (1057 Old Mill Rd San Marino, CA 91108).
Our systems bring together the best of fish farming and vegetable gardening in a part of the world where mothers struggle so much to feed their children, 40% of them have their growth stunted because of malnutrition.
Aquaponics provides not only a better, more secure source of nutrition but also a significant economic engine for families who farm only rice once a year. So, on Mother's Day weekend, come and see this well-engineered food system that empowers mothers in Cambodia around a glass of wine
The event is free but you must RSVP to attend! We look forward to seeing you there!
If you cannot attend but want to support our work,
please consider making a donation!
Want to see our aquaponic systems in action in the communities of rural Cambodia and learn more about its impact in the lives of the people there? Check our latest videos and come and see us May 11th to meet in person!
A Day In the Life: Community First Aquaponics in Sen Sok, Cambodia
In Depth: The Impact of Aquaponics in Sen Sok
SATURDAY, MAY 11 2019 - 3:30PM to 5:30PM
1057 Old Mill Rd, San Marino, CA 91108, USA
Thanks to the support of our donors, we have been able to continue to bring sustainable farming to another family in the countryside. By implementing these aquaponic systems, we have been able to help empower local farmers free themselves from subsistence and provide them with a way to improve their family’s nutrition all year round.
It’s the rainy season, and it’s the perfect time to break ground for the gardens in the front of the campus! As the monsoon rains flood the land, the sandy-clay soil softens and allows us to continue turning the Community First Campus into a space for sustainable agriculture.
It’s the first day of Spring, and Community First is celebrating the season with our first crop of aquaponic strawberries!
Our team has been hard at work in the Cambodian countryside setting up the farm school and aquaponic systems at the campus. That work has paid off, and now we have over 100 strawberry plants thriving in the campus system.
One of our students even had the chance to taste his first strawberry!!
There are so many things to celebrate with us this year, as together we make it possible for people with limited water to provide more nutritious food for themselves and their families with the help of aquaponics!
Since 2009, Community First’s projects have brought a better quality of life for the villages in Sen Sok by drilling water wells, setting up biodigestors, teaching sewing skills, and providing agricultural training. Now with our aquaponic program fully underway, we plan to continue providing the best practices of agricultural development by moving into our building in Smach village.