Another year, another annual meeting: Horticulture Innovation Lab partners gathered this time in Cambodia to share achievements, exchange ideas, and scheme about their next steps in advancing horticultural science and helping smallholder farmers in developing countries.
Exchanging horticultural ideas at lightning speed
Nearly 100 scientists, development practitioners, and other horticultural partners gathered for a Regional Horticulture Conference on the first day of the meeting.
Elizabeth Mitcham of the Horticulture Innovation Lab, Men Sarom of the Royal University of Agriculture, Sang Lee of USAID/Cambodia, and John Bowman of USAID’s Bureau for Food Security provided welcoming remarks to set the scene for the day and its priorities.
Lee highlighted the accomplishments of Feed the Future activities in Cambodia, including USAID’s continued investment in horticulture to increase incomes and nutrition through fruits and vegetables.
“It is estimated that 70 percent of vegetables are imported from neighboring countries,” she said. “Even if we can reduce that 70 percent marginally, I think that can make a big difference.”
Much of the conference day was split into 5-minute lightning talks, with a total of 15 speakers sharing just the highlights of their recent horticultural work. After one hour of presentations, the speakers and participants circulated for follow-up questions and in-depth discussions sparked by the brief talks. (See slides from the lightning talks on our website, and watch for 5-minute video features of these talks in future blog posts.)
Approximately 175 participants attended a Symposium on Horticultural Science, held March 18 at the Royal University of Agriculture campus in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The event was presented by the Royal University of Agriculture in collaboration with the Horticulture Innovation Lab.
The rector of the Royal University of Agriculture, Ngo Bunthan attended the technical sessions. He also offered welcoming remarks about the importance of horticulture in Cambodia and the increasing demand for Cambodian-grown fresh produce.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia has set a high priority on the agriculture sector for sustainable growth because of its leading contribution to the country’s economy,” Bunthan said. “More than 70 percent of the population work in rural cultivation. However, Cambodia’s horticulture [sector]… is not self-sufficient yet, and the country relies heavily on imports from neighboring countries.”
He also emphasized the university’s interest in international cooperation and building the capacity of its young lecturers, alumni and students.
“This symposium is important in developing the concrete understanding of horticulture technology among resources in the university, where those technologies can then be disseminated to the field and privates farms, ultimately producing sustainable horticulture products for Cambodia,” he said.
While in Cambodia for the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s 2016 annual meeting, I arrived a few days early to visit a project that I have been advising remotely regarding postharvest practices. The project, led by Manny Reyes of North Carolina A&T State University, is working with women vegetable farmers who have been successfully practicing conservation agriculture in the Siem Reap region.
As a postharvest specialist, I was most interested in how the farmers are using some of the low-cost technologies that the Horticulture Innovation Lab is promoting around the world. Specifically, the project has built a cool room equipped with a CoolBot, as well as a grading table and a washing station in collaboration with Kasetsart University of Thailand and the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC). They are also working on a “tuktukbot,” which is a motorbike and trailer equipped with a cooled compartment to transport the produce for sale, maintaining the quality of the fresh produce during hot days.
During my visit I had the chance to meet the local project technicians Ren Ry and Sel Rechaney as well as local farmers. Together we explored farms, storage locations and different transportation vehicles, so I could monitor the trip of fresh gourds and chili peppers from harvest to grading, packing and storage in order to identify postharvest practices they could improve.
As one of the graduate student program managers of the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s Trellis Fund, the reality of managing 15 small projects across 9 countries in the last year has meant a lot of time spent at my computer. I love what I do, but I find it easy to get consumed in my own projects. My world can easily become compressed to that which exists inside my computer screen.
Attending the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s annual meeting this year in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was a bit of a wake-up call for me. Getting to meet many of our partners and fellow development practitioners — whose names I’ve read in emails, reports and project proposals for as long as I’ve worked here — brought the scope of our work to life in a whole new way.