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A farmer irrigates his rice fields in Kandal province last year in preparation to plant new crops. Pha Lina

Gov’t rejects WB’s report

A World Bank report released last month shows that as of 2011-2012 only 7.9 per cent of Cambodia’s arable land was irrigated, with the a Ministry of Water Resources official contesting these numbers as old data and that irrigated land figures were higher than reported.

The report, titled Cambodian Agriculture in Transition: Opportunities and Risks and published on August 19, shows the actual irrigated area in the Kingdom was around 317,000 hectares in 2011-2012, less than 8 per cent of 4 million hectare of total arable land in the country.

Chan Yutha, spokesman and director of cabinet at the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology, rejected the report’s findings, and while he didn’t give figures for the total area under irrigation, said that if one were to only consider dry season paddy under irrigation it was higher than the World Bank’s total figure.

“The report is very far from the real situation. Only considering the land [using irrigation] for dry season paddy it is around 500,000 hectares in 2014,” he said.

Further contesting these numbers, Yutha said irrigation systems were reaching around 50 per cent of the 2.5 million hectares under rice cultivation, and this did not even take into account land irrigated for other agricultural products.

“In the World Bank’s report, they talk about arable land, but what does arable land mean? What I am talking about is total land for rice production, which is around 2.5 million hectares.”

Srey Chanthy, an independent economic analyst, said the difference in figures could be attributed to different data sets used by the government and the World Bank, as well as differences in irrigated areas under calculation.

“The World Bank’s data focuses on fully irrigated area, whereas the Ministry’s focuses on both full and supplementary irrigated areas. So, it is sure it will be different. It is not the same,” Chanthy said.

In the two-year gap between the Ministry’s and World Bank’s data, the government, Chanthy said, had invested in irrigation systems across the country.

While the World Bank may have been using an older data set, Khim Sophana, a senior advisor to agriculture organisation CEDAC said the government’s calculations were based on theoretical calculations of the reach of their irrigation systems, and that the actual figure is lower than what is claimed by the government.

“I think the gap is still far different. It is hard for the government to accept it. For my own opinion, the figure should be between 10 to 15 per cent.”

In sharp contrast, the report shows that neighbouring countries Thailand and Vietnam had 32 and 70 per cent of their arable land under irrgation, with Cambodia logging the last spot among its Southeast Asia counterparts.

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