We have come to appreciate within the two years of the HCE project in Cambodia, funded by the UC Davis Horticultural Innovations Lab and USAID, that bringing together disaggregated members of smallholder farming communities into savings groups is as important for scaling up the production of healthy and nutritious foods as the introduction of new farming technologies and practices. This pilot study examines how these two approaches can work together toward assuring that smallholder farmers will continue to play a major role in achieving the goal of sustainable food security. Our preliminary findings indicate that savings groups are an effective mechanism for bringing together farmers, farm families, suppliers, transporters, processors, and marketers to collaborate in building value chains that assure a viable and sustainable local horticultural-based economy. Not only do savings groups help amass lump sums of capital which can be drawn upon to invest in new technologies and practices, but savings groups serve as centers of informational exchange both horizontally among local stakeholders, and also vertically with two way communication between agricultural communities and research and training institutions. Savings groups offer its members needed risk protection for trying out new practices as well as a fertile ground for spawning new agricultural businesses. HCE began at a propitious moment following a recent global call to assist smallholder farmers in providing the world with clean and nutritious foods. We therefore believe it to be timely that our model be tested at a larger scale and with a more rigorous design in order to validate our preliminary findings.
Many studies have been carried out that examine savings groups and their link to poverty alleviation. This collaboration between UC Davis, Cambodian Royal University of Agriculture and Oxfam America links savings groups to healthy food production and the entrepreneurial horticultural communities responsible for it. HCE savings groups provides a systems approach that not only furthers the adoption of healthy and nutritious horticultural practices among smallholder farmers; but also increases farmer income. And perhaps, most importantly for global food security, it creates greater collaboration among previously disaggregate smallholder farmers that offers the promise of scaling up into a sustainable agricultural industry. Within these communities there is a shared interest to maximize the production of high quality, healthy vegetables that will bring the greatest return on investment. If the farmer thrives, so does the community. We believe that Mrs. Clinton would concur that it takes a community to raise a healthy vegetable.