Throughout South-East Asia, cassava has become an important crop for both rural livelihoods and economic development, with estimates showing that more than 2 million households are engaged in cassava production. The crop is cultivated to meet the rapidly growing regional and global demand for animal feed, starch-based products, ethanol, and biofuel.
Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) presents a significant risk to Cambodia’s cassava industry. If left unchecked, the disease will continue to spread throughout the region, devastating cassava production, the incomes of millions of farmers, and the multibillion-dollar industry.
As an agriculture researcher, Ms Kan Sopha sees this crisis as an opportunity to support farmers. In 2020, Ms Sopha joined a team of local and international researchers and scientists to combat CMD, aiming to halt its spread and introduce disease-resistant varieties.
Ms Sopha and her team face enormous pressure as the disease spreads across Cambodia. Disease-free stems are becoming increasingly difficult to find, but early detection allows researchers and farmers to adapt.
‘The team has to work against time. We had to take risks to travel to fields for data collection and experiments, despite COVID-19 travel restrictions last year. The faster we can find new infestations, the more we can minimise the devastation,' said Ms Sopha.
Ms Sopha finds her work challenging but rewarding.
'I hope my contribution can help farmers and companies to reduce their losses and have a chance to remain in the cassava market despite the disease spreading,' added Ms Sopha.
I hope my contribution can help farmers and companies to reduce their losses and have a chance to remain in the cassava market despite the disease spreading.
Ms Kan Sopha
Cassava is a vital crop for Cambodian farmers and the economy, second only to rice. It is often grown by the poorest farmers, accounting for more than 50%of their income.
Growing up in a farming family, Ms Sopha always wanted to use her knowledge to improve the lives of smallholder farmers.
‘I decided to study and work in agriculture because I want to support farmers. I want to change people’s mindset that studying agriculture will limit our career path to only farming. That mindset is very narrow, and agriculture science is a very rewarding professional field.
'I want to urge more women to participate in agricultural research projects as it is the best way to support farmers by discovering effective solutions to their current challenges.
'Whenever I can support farmers, it makes me feel like I am helping my family, who are also farmers,' added Ms Sopha.
Ms Sopha is an inspiring example of how girls can build careers in science. Her knowledge of agricultural research has empowered her to support farmers facing plant diseases and other challenges.
The project expects to release new disease-resistant plants for farmers and the industry by mid-2024. Farmers and relevant stakeholders will have access to education on disease awareness and management options.
The project team’s goal is to assist Cambodia and other countries in the region in building a resilient and sustainable cassava value chain.
I want to urge more women to participate in agricultural research projects as it is the best way to support farmers by discovering effective solutions to their current challenges.
Ms Kan Sopha