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Cambodia Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN) programme

Watch an inspirational video about the Cambodia Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition project - an eight-year market systems development programme to develop the horticultural sector and increase the long-term resilience and food security of smallholder farmers in Northern Cambodia.
Farmer using improved horticultural methods
The video highlights how CHAIN supports farmers in horticulture, nutrition, and market access.


Agriculture dominates the Cambodian economy. Most Cambodian farmers are smallholders with less than two hectares of land per household. Many women are engaged in farming, with women-headed households and children among the poorest and most vulnerable. Low productivity of smallholder agriculture is the result of limited access to quality agricultural inputs, technical know-how and innovation, as well as marketing opportunities and market information. Pressure on water resources and the effects of climate change are additional challenges. Although Cambodia is not yet self-sufficient in vegetables, fast economic growth has resulted in more demand for high quality local fruits and vegetables. This provides a huge opportunity for smallholder farmers and processors, particularly women, to increase income and food security.

The Cambodia Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN) project is an eight-year market systems development programme to develop the horticultural sector and reduce poverty in Northern Cambodia. This factsheet* describes the goals and expectations of Phase 3 of the project (CHAIN III) for January 2021-December 2022. The factsheet is written for a general audience. See also the End of Phase Two Report for much more details on the previous results of the project.

*This weADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for research purposes, full references,orto quote text.

Project objective and partnerships

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has developed the Cambodian Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN) programme in close cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries through the General Department of Agriculture and the provincial departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Implementing agencies are the consortium of SNV (lead), Swisscontact, and MetaMeta.

CHAIN’s overall goal is to improve income and nutrition of rural households through safe horticulture production and trade in the targeted rural provinces (Kratie, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear and Stung Treng) in Cambodia and to assist the Royal Government of Cambodia in the transition from subsistence farming into commercial farming by establishing inclusive extension services for safe production and for advanced small farmer’s productivity.

This last phase of CHAIN (CHAIN III), will put a specific focus on smart water management at farm, commune and district level, and the transition of leadership and ownership of the support to the horticulture sub-sector in the target areas to the General Directorate of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries at both national and provincial levels.


The CHAIN project contributed a case study to the CDKN’s 2021 publication titled ‘Advancing Gender Equality and Climate Action, available on CDKN web site (see p34 – 41):

Advancing Gender Equality and Climate Action: A practical guide to setting targets and monitoring progress

Outcomes and Impacts

Up to now, CHAIN has reached out to 10,200 farmers through 400 farmer groups. This includes 3,300 home gardeners, 6,000 semi-commercial and commercial farmers and another 900 farmers of various sizes and commercial orientation reached indirectly (73% women and 10% indigenous people).

This should be viewed in light of the ‘Theory of Change’ of CHAIN Phase II: Farmers will have better access to knowledge on horticulture farming, markets, business opportunities and nutrition, and will improve their productivity and marketing of vegetables through sustainable business relationships with input and technology suppliers, traders and buyers. They will also increase their household consumption of safe vegetables.

Phase II worked towards the following outcomes and impacts:

  • Outcome 1: Increased access of gender responsive extension and business development services
    • Impact: Based on the outcome results achieved to date, in CHAIN-2 the project has facilitated group-level local ownership, improved the partners’ capacities, and created B2B linkages between public and private actors to develop the horticulture sector in the four-targeted provinces.
  • Outcome 2: Improved functioning of the horticulture market system through inclusive business
    • Impact: Surveyed traders have seen quantity, quality, diversity, and reliability of local produce all increase over the last three years
  • Outcome 3: Improved enabling environment supporting the development of the horticulture sector
    • Impact: CHAIN-2 supported actively the linkages between market actors and the public sector to inform and influence policy. CHAIN-2 support a draft national Horticulture Policy as well as provincial strategies and national standards for vegetables (CAMOrg).

For more information see the ‘CHAIN End of Phase Two Report’

CHAIN-3 is planning to capitalise on the experiences of the CHAIN project to date, producing a number of participatory knowledge and dissemination products to this effect. CHAIN-3 will further build on these focusing on water resources and management, whist consolidating the market system results of CHAIN-1 and 2.

CHAIN-3 (Phase III) has defined the following three outcomes:

  • Outcome 1: More efficient and inclusive local market systems in which smallholder farmers and private sector undertake profitable year round production and business
  • Outcome 2: Increased management / steering by provincial and sub-provincial government institutions supporting sustainable, inclusive and climate smart growth of the vegetable sector
  • Outcome 3: Improved policies and performance by national level government institutions and private sector for growth of the horticulture sector

Lessons Learnt

The most exciting interventions and some of their lessons in CHAIN:

  • Farmer segmentation and graduation. A blanket approach doesn’t work as farming households are very different in their responses to commercial opportunities. Farmers adapt their strategies and can graduate or down-grade depending on the risks, attitude, and productive assets they have.
  • A cluster approach where market linkages are built, supported by government, can be quite successful, using a push and pull strategy. Push strategy on farmer production includes training on increasing productivity, intensifying production through farmer-to-farmer extension and demos, stimulating behaviour change, creating a critical mass for demand of inputs, and enforcing the link with private sector training and product services. Some of the input selling companies have increased their sales in these new markets for them, enormously (e.g., up to 1000%). A Pull strategy on increasing market demand for local vegetables, stimulates many suppliers to produce, and united in a cluster, creates a critical mass of suppliers to have enough volume to interest the buyers and bigger off-takers to construct a regular supply relationship.
  • Lead farmer incubator. Farmer-to-farmer extension is an effective mechanism for technology uptake, market information and learning. Lead farmers who have capacity to facilitate this learning are an important element. The Lead Farmer Incubator supports these farmers with more business skills include the technical and market information and start providing services like selling inputs and buying vegetables from producers. The lead farmers who have completed the incubator program and started their businesses have increased knowledge, skills, business performance, increase their productive assets and social reputation and it is hoped that they will continue to run and scale up their business for supporting other horticulture farmers in remote areas.
  • Year-round production. Local markets do get saturated and for many of the bigger buyers, consistency in volumes and quality is very important. Producing year-round needs technologies, like net-houses and irrigation, can boost farmers’ income considerable. Co-investments in technology (PPP) can showcase and attract investments for bigger uptake. We have to see if technology suppliers will set up permanent sales channels and after-sales services in the areas.
  • Rural Business Accelerator. Stimulating local SMEs as part of the market system is a very important part of creating lasting market relationships. Some SMEs and entrepreneurs really need business management support to grow. Our training has helped various SMEs to run their business better, be more customer focused. Some input SMEs even advise producers on what to grow depending on the seeds they have sold to other customers, thus leading to a potential oversupply in the market. Some SMEs with enough business have been too busy to show any interest in participating in such a training. And for most of the SMEs the willingness to pay for the training service is not there. CHAIN End of Phase-2 Report 15
  • Smart Water Solutions. (Drip) Irrigation is one of the most important investments farmers make in producing vegetables. But you need to extract the water from the source, bring it to the farm, and administer it to the crop in a cost-efficient way. Reducing water consumption, for instance, by using plastic and organic mulch is also very effective. The management of collective water resources beyond the farm will become more and more important to create true climate resilience. Pilots have demonstrated that there is a big interest but also a significant need for adequate financing solutions to pay for these investments.
  • Working with local partnerships. CHAIN worked with many local SMEs, local NGOs, and provincial and district government. These were important to cement the clusters, establishing linkages and relationships. Working with all these partners is not always easy, but it helps to discover what their mandate is, what their capacities are and how to strengthen those. For the government we created an interest to learn about the market system development interventions, develop an inclusive commercial approach to horticultural development and to explore what the public functions are which need to be served in a market system, and thus taken up by the government. Collaborating with complementary partners such as SwissContact improves the results of an overall programme.
  • Stimulating market demand. Using market stall and a social media campaign (Planted by Khmer) is part of a movement where demand for local safe vegetables are increasing. However how much safer are these local vegetables compared to imports? Anecdotical evidence of newspaper articles revealed some scandals in imported vegetables and its food safety. However, with the absence of a system for structural testing for pesticide residues on both imported and local vegetables, it is hard to know for sure.

Suggested Citation:

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, (2021),‘CHAIN-Cambodian Horticulture Project Advancing Income and Nutrition Phase III Fact Sheet,’ [online].

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