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A farmer handles cassava in Pailin province in December 2011
A farmer handles cassava in Pailin province in December 2011. HENG CHIVOAN

Floods damage cassava crop

The coming cassava harvest is increasingly threatened by flooding as about 25 per cent of the crop in prime growing provinces is or has been submerged, according to authorities.

Taking up more cultivated area than any other crop in Cambodia except for rice, cassava is especially vulnerable to flooding because it can’t hold up very long against water.

As a result, farmers can expect a much-reduced yield this season when they harvest the crop in late December and early January.

“It is a serious issue for many farmers,” Heng Bunhor, director of the agriculture department in Banteay Meanchey province, said. “Many fields were under water for 20 days.”

Bunhor said that farmers planted a total of 47,100 hectares of cassava in the province, and floods affected some 12,000 hectares.

Although it is difficult to say how much of these crops is beyond salvaging, odds are not good.

Cassava, a root plant, needs just five days submerged under water before it is considered damaged.

Production is centred in heavily flooded areas of the northwest, in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Pailin provinces.

“The extent of damage is very wide and is difficult to fix,” said Cambodian Economic Association president Srey Chanthy, who has been visiting flood-affected areas. It will be difficult to cover production costs with revenue from plants that can be salvaged, Chanthy added.

Authorities in the provinces estimate that between 20 and 30 per cent of cassava crops are at risk.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, rice paddy fields took up 2.9 million hectares last year, cassava were planted across 337,000 additional hectares, while corn accounted for 215,000 hectares.

In Battambang province, where cassava farmers are growing 61,000 hectares, Chem Vichara, director of the agricultural department, said that 17,000, or about 27 per cent, was doomed.

“The production this year will be decreased. It is unlikely to be fixed because the harvest time is nearly here,” Vichara said yesterday. Chev Tav, a cassava farmer in Banteay Meanchey province, said that even though flooding has damaged five of his 50 plots so far, he’ll continue to plant the same crop next season.

“It is unlikely that I’ll plant another crop as a substitute. I will still plant it next year.”

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