Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Five Ways Relationships Can Improve Food Safety

This post was written by Karen LeGrand of the University of California, Davis, and was originally posted on the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture's blog.

What do relationships have to do with innovation and food safety? In Cambodia, our international team is built on the idea that when we focus our work around the shared interests of a community, it can bring people together in participatory ways that result in innovation and sustainable change.

One example was a situation where a marketer wanted to purchase vegetables that were considered “safe” (free of microbiological and chemical hazards). Farmers participated with our research team to conduct trials aimed at identifying appropriate ways to change farming and postharvest practices to reduce chemical usage and improve hygiene. Project activities introduced a variety of technologies to farmers and marketers who selected pest exclusion nets as a possible solution to reducing or eliminating pesticide usage and improving hygiene. Through participatory trials with our researchers, the farmers adapted the nets to fit their own needs and the marketer gained confidence that farmers using this technology could help meet the market demand for safe vegetables. The marketer agreed to offer a higher price on contract to farmers who properly used net houses to produce vegetables.

As these local community members participated with our research team during field trials, they gained mutual trust and developed strong business relationships that continue today, nearly three years after the initial project ended. Today we apply the same approach to developing innovation and safe food networks in another region of Cambodia and see these same dynamics as our team focuses on developing innovation within the context of forming local business relationships.

The shared interests that motivated participation and built trusted relationships during the project were the key that opened the door to innovation and long-term adoption of safe food practices. Fostering shared interest, participation and trust can:

  1. Mitigate the risk of change
    Communities that work together towards shared goals develop not only a sense of trust but also of solidarity. This is important because when community members act together, the shared sense of ownership becomes a support system to mitigate the risk of change.
  2. Improve gender equity
    When community members act collectively, there is more gender equity. We see that as women and men participate in our project to solve problems together, women become more active in their communities and even take on leadership roles.
  3. Increase income
    Community members who work together toward common occupational goals have more opportunity to develop strong business relationships, earn more income and save money to invest in their families and businesses.
  4. Result in local sustainability
    When trusted relationships are fostered among individuals who have shared interests, there is motivation to work together to identify innovative solutions to shared problems. Investments made by local people to solve their own problems build local ownership and sustainability into a project.
  5. Improve food safety, health and nutrition
    Sustainable improvements in farming and postharvest practices lead to reductions in chemical use and increases in hygienic practices. Food that is free of chemical and microbiological contaminants improves nutrition and health.

Our experience prioritizing shared interest, participation and trust in our work with communities in Cambodia illustrates that focusing efforts on strengthening local relationships is key. In this way, carrying forward innovation and technology adoption for improving food safety is both sustainable and scalable.

LeGrand is a UC Davis researcher who leads a Horticulture Innovation Lab project focused on building safe vegetable value chains in Cambodia along with an international team from the Royal University of Agriculture, the University of Battambang and iDE Cambodia. This project is supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of the U.S. government’s global Feed the Future initiative.

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