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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Royal oxen yield brown gold at annual plowing ceremony

Royal oxen yield brown gold at annual plowing ceremony

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TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP

Royal oxen eat from trays of grain at the Royal Plowing Ceremony in Phnom Penh’s Veal Preahmein park on May 23.

While Cambodian officials were crowing about good harvests this year following predictions made at the Royal Plowing Ceremony on May 23, some savvy farmers were leaving nothing to chance and scooping up auctioned off royal cow dung in the belief it would lead to truly exalted crops.

"Farmers will enjoy a moderate output for their rice harvest but good yields in secondary crop production, especially corn and beans," royal astrologer Korng Ken said at the Phnom Penh ceremony presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni and watched by a crowd that included dignitaries, government officials and hundreds of apprehensive farmers.

Two royal oxen were earlier presented with seven trays containing a variety of products, from which they chose rice, corn and beans.

Ken said the oxen only sniffed at a tray of water and had turned away from others holding sesame seeds, grass and wine.

This, he said, indicated there would be no serious flooding this year and may even be a drought, which has become a serious problem in recent years and is likely to unsettle the nation's largely superstitious farmers.

With such uncertainty remaining, it was action at the animals' rears that some farmers were putting their faith in, paying a hefty premium for manure from the royal beasts that they could use as fertilizer.

Royal oxen handler Hem Yeam, from Saang district in Kandal province, said cow dung from the king's stable was auctioned to farmers for about 150,000 riels ($37.50) a ton - nearly twice the price of less illustrious manure.

"We can be millionaires (in riels)!" Yeam told the Post.

The power of the pooh could not be verified by the Post at the time of going to press, but something had worked to upset predictions made at the 2007 plowing ceremony.

Astrologers last year predicted a poor harvest after the oxen scoffed offerings from each basket. The harvest, however, had been one of the best on record.

(Additional reporting by Brendan Brady)

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