Schools in Phnom Penh City Establish Gardens through the Smart Cities Business Innovation Fund

ASEAN Asia The Mekong

The Agroecology Garden for the Future (AG4F) project is one of six awardees selected for the Smart Cities Business Innovation Fund (SCBIF), funded by the U.S. ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership (USASCP) of the U.S. Department of State.

The USASCP established the SCBIF to provide financial opportunities for innovative stakeholders at the local/city level rather than the national level. Some of these stakeholders include small businesses, NGOs, and universities.

The USASCP develops activities and programs to address problems in metropolitan cities in ASEAN countries. These programs are designed to promote collaboration between innovative programs in US cities with their counterparts in the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) and to fund sustainable net-zero/low carbon solutions to address urban challenges.

The program offers $1,000,000 worth of awards, with each award ranging from $30,000 to $300,000. SCBIF first began inviting proposals to fund sustainable net-zero/low carbon solutions to address urban challenges in April 2022.

The AG4F project was proposed and is managed by Uni4Coop, an organization comprised of four NGOs in Europe. Two NGOs involved with Uni4Coop are involved in this project. Eclosio, an NGO from the Belgian University of Liège and Louvain Coopération, an NGO from the Belgian city of Louvain-La-Neuve, partnered with the Cambodian Royal University of Agriculture to make this project a reality in Cambodia.

Agroecology is a form of small-scale agriculture meant to educate people, especially younger generations, on food and its relationship with the environment. Gardens like these can be utilized to promote biodiversity, to fight against food deserts, and to support access to fresh food in large cities. The AG4F project aims to implement some of these goals in Phnom Penh.

The USASCP provided the major goals of this particular project in their quarterly report dated March 2023: “(1) increase access of school students and staff to urban green space (UGS) in Phnom Penh City through the establishment of one agroecology garden at each school, (2) to promote the adaptation of agroecology gardens at other schools in urban areas nationwide, (3) to educate students on nutrition and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) prevention through trainings and information, education and communications (IEC) materials, and (4) to empower students through the acquisition of environmental stewardship skills so that they can transfer their knowledge to their parents and other members in their communities.”

AG4F summarized the current progress they have made in the early stages of their project with the four selected schools. The most significant progress is that AG4F is drafting a manual to help other schools in Phnom Penh adopt and manage gardens to achieve their sustainability goals. This would be a fantastic resource for other schools to replicate the success of these gardens in their own communities.

East-West Center Young Professional Robert Kincaid had the opportunity to interview Sours Thida, a Communications Officer at a Phnom Penh-based NGO called the Center for Sustainable Water. She also attended Sisowath High School, one of the schools developing an agroecological garden through AG4F.

How do you think that the establishment of these gardens will benefit your former school?

The establishment of an agroecology garden in Sisowath High School is beneficial for everyone involved in the school. It creates a safe environment and a green space for students. The AG4F project will transform Sisowath High School to one of the most eco-friendly schools in Phnom Penh.

How will empowering students at your former school benefit the community?

I believe AG4F is a smart and innovative organization that provides students with creative ideas as a developing country. For students who are interested in agroecology, this is a great opportunity to learn and practice those skills. In my opinion, the AG4F project can be a good lesson for other schools, and particularly for Sisowath students to learn how important the matter of green space is for our livelihood.

How would you have benefited by training in agroecology, horticulture, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and Nutrition?

An opportunity like that would’ve allowed me to share information about agroecology, horticulture, and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with my friends, family, and communities. This is a great opportunity for us to learn about this topic for future innovation in Cambodia.

Did your school ever teach you about sustainable urbanization or the problems that come with rapid urbanization?

During high school, we had a few sessions on sustainable urbanization and the problems that come with rapid urbanization. The school only touched upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and gave a brief introduction on the 17 goals.

Bobby Kincaid is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a recent graduate from American University with a major in international relations with a focus on China and Taiwan.