By Kate Helm
Cambodia isn’t the first country to come to mind when thinking about agricultural advancement, but it could be the model of the future, says Hart Feuer ’05, in the final year of studies for his Ph.D. in international development at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, Germany. He lived in Cambodia while studying how developing countries with predominantly pre-modern agricultural sectors explore divergent food economies.
“After the UN-sponsored elections in 1993, the government and development agencies that entered Cambodia introduced far more humane and ecologically minded agricultural models, which are already crowding out chemical agriculture,” explains Feuer. “Instead of being niche movements, much like organic and local are in the U.S., sustainable agriculture in Cambodia could become the norm. And that is something worth studying, worth learning from.”
After completing his Ph.D., Feuer plans to return to Cambodia to find a job that includes research and social action or a position in the field of ecological agriculture development. He also is considering remaining in Germany or moving to England and working for an international agency involved with eco-certification.
The journey to Cambodia began on College Hill when Feuer received a fellowship from the Center for Khmer Studies, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, to spend three months in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for his honors thesis research. He analyzed the social capital, market interaction, and income-generation capacity of two semi-rural villages there.
Feuer, a native of Oregon who majored in economics & business and German, also traveled to Israel as an undergraduate and spent a semester abroad in Germany. “The capability to travel and live abroad conferred on us by our American passport is a privilege that not many citizens in other nations of the world have,” he says.
Feuer sees his current success as the culmination of a subconscious decision to explore his family roots by studying German as an undergraduate. His ancestry can be traced to Finland, modern-day Ukraine, and Germany.
“I now speak German, pay taxes here, benefit from state-administered health care, and reside in the region where my maternal grandfather’s family used to live,” he says. “How romantic is that?”
Academic achievement is nothing new for Feuer, who received a prestigious graduate scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that funded his master’s degree in the philosophy of development at Oxford University and continues to finance his doctoral program.
“The most rewarding aspect of my work is the opportunity to experience and study how cultures at different stages of development think about and understand things that have been normalized to Westerners,” says Feuer, who maintains a concurrent research project studying organic rice markets and advancing traditional medicine in Cambodia. “By the time I left Lafayette, I had the confidence and enough language ability to continue my education and career elsewhere. Each aspect of one’s life – whether it is one’s grandparents’ cultural background, extracurricular activities, or grades – contributes to who you are and what you choose to do.”