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Damp results for rainy season

A young woman pours rice onto a pile earlier this month as grain is extracted behind her in Battambang province
A young woman pours rice onto a pile earlier this month as grain is extracted behind her in Battambang province. Heng Chivoan

Damp results for rainy season

Agriculture industry representatives are hopeful that paddy rice output will pick up during the coming dry season, despite production levels during the recent rainy season weakening year-on-year.

According to Ministry of Agriculture report released last week, paddy production for the May-to-January rainy season reached 6.6 million tonnes, down more than 230,000 tonnes from the 2013-14 results. Productivity has similarly dropped from 2.9 tonnes of paddy per hectare to 2.7 tonnes.

Pich Romnea, deputy director for the ministry’s Paddy Rice Department, is pinning his hopes on a bumper 2015 dry season, from January to April, after drought, floods and insect plagues hampered the recent rainy season’s performance.

“Dry season paddy rice production this year has already started, and I am expecting a better total output figure,” the official said.

Cambodia’s productivity levels increase from about 2.9 tonnes per hectare in the rainy season to more than 4 tonnes per hectare in the dry season, according to the government’s report. The country’s rice production area has increased by more than 30 per cent to 460,000 hectares since the previous dry season.

“At the very least, we hope total production for the full 2015 year will remain the same as last year. We expect our rice surplus to reach 4.6 million tonnes.”

Cambodia produced 9.3 million tonnes of paddy in 2014.

Dry spells in June and July last year affected 110,000 hectares of rice production land in 13 provinces, while floods damaged more than 78,000 hectares of paddy in 17 provinces.

“Climate change is the challenge that our farmers are facing. We have informed farmers to be selective in choosing rice seeds. We tell them to be flexible and choose the seeds that are resilient to climate change,” Romnea said.

But for Kan Vesna, a farmer representative from Battambang province, the dry season may not be as lucrative for rice growers as Romnea hopes.

Vesna said a lack of water irrigation systems remained the biggest barrier to ensuring maximum crop output during the four-month dry period.

“Only those [farmers] who are close to water resources can produce rice during the dry season,” Vesna said.

“In our case, some farmers have dug up wells and ponds around their land, but we aren’t sure if that will even be enough to sustain production over the full period.”

Yang Saing Koma, president of agricultural organisation CEDAC, rallied Vesna’s frustrations over inadequate irrigation.

“Though irrigation systems in Cambodia cover almost 60 per cent of the total rice production area, only about 10 per cent of the irrigation systems can be used,” Koma said.

Koma said the majority of irrigation systems installed throughout the country have either dried up entirely, or are not connected to reliable water sources.

“Farmers now face uncertainty over rainfall and they depend very heavily on the reliability of the seasons.”

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