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An aerial view of flooded agricultural fields next to the Tonle Sap river in Kampong Chhnang’s Longvek village on Sunday.
An aerial view of flooded agricultural fields next to the Tonle Sap river in Kampong Chhnang’s Longvek village on Sunday. Scott Howes

Soggy forecast for rice farmers

Extreme weather attributed to the tail-end of an El Niño event continues to wreak havoc on the nation’s agricultural sector, with more than 20,000 hectares of rice fields damaged so far this year, a government agricultural expert said yesterday.

Men Sothy, director of the statistics department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the nation’s rice farmers have taken a one-two punch from Mother Nature – first with a severe and prolonged drought, and now in some areas with devastating floods.

“If comparing the current flooding to the earlier drought, farmers suffered more seriously during the long drought, but we cannot yet assess the full impact of flood damage as heavy rains are expected to continue through at least next week,” he said.

As of mid-October, about 17,500 hectares of rice fields have been affected by adverse weather, of which crops on nearly 3,200 hectares have been destroyed. Heaviest hit are crops in Prey Veng and Kampong Speu provinces, which account for over half of the total affected area.

“Prey Veng and Kampong Speu provinces have been seriously impacted,” Sothy said, without putting a price on the damage. “I think the amount of damage will keep increasing as flood levels remain high and the rain is forecast to continue through the week.”

Say Sopheatra, project manager of the Cambodian Micro Agricultural Insurance Scheme (CAMAIS), said the impact of adverse weather could surpass last year’s devastating totals, resulting in losses for farmers whose crops are uninsured.

CAMAIS is a crop insurance scheme launched in late-2015 that aims at supporting local smallholder farmers by providing insurance payouts to those affected by severe weather-related events attributed to climate change. The two-year project was launched with funding from the Netherlands-based Achmea Foundation, and implemented by the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) across nine districts in three provinces: Kampong Chhnang, Takeo and Kampong Speu.

According to Sopheatra, 159 rice farmers took out microinsurance from CAMAIS since the start of the year, with a total premium of just under $1,500. She said the microinsurer’s team was currently monitoring and evaluating claims in order to determine the compensation that affected rice farmers are entitled to.

“The situation this year, it is worse than last year as farmers have suffered both drought and floods,” she said. “We are monitoring and evaluating the compensation payout for farmers.”

The weather-related damage is helping the project’s organisers to better understand the market. CAMAIS is seeking further funding from Achmea and looking to expand its crop insurance scheme to four other provinces soon.

Seam Bunthoeurn, a rice farmer in Kampong Speu province’s Borse district, said he was thankful to be among the farmers who piloted the crop insurance scheme, and the $5 he spent on a policy for his half-hectare field gave him peace of mind.

“This year my crops suffered flooding but it was not too bad, as each time the water receded quickly,” he said. “However, even in the face of drought and flooding I will not lose all my money as I purchased insurance for my field that will allow me to recover the money I spent on seeds and fertilizer.”

Cambodia’s total rice production topped 9.2 million tonnes last year, with exports rising by 39 percent in 2015 to 538,000 tonnes, according to Ministry of Agriculture data.

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