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Bumper harvest in 2006

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) have announced a 2 million

ton rice surplus, but experts are divided as to whether the bumper yield was the

result of improvements in farming techniques or the blessings of nature.

Meanwhile, the Royal Astrologer's predictions of dire conditions for rice growers

in 2007, coupled with the Royal oxen refusing rice at the Royal Plowing Ceremony,

has farmers worried about this year's harvest.

Meas Sotheavy, chief of the statistics office at MAFF, said in 2006 farmers harvested

6,264,123 tons of rice.

"We have a 2,240,438 ton rice surplus," Theavy said.

Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state at MAFF, said the high yield was due to irrigation

and new farming techniques.

"I think the export market has also encouraged farmers to produce more crops,"

Tong Yves said.

Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture,

said since 2000 farmers had started using a system of rice intensification, which

was providing greater yields. He said about 60,000 farming households had started

to use this system.

But Phou Puy, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Rice Mills Association, said

the rice surplus had little to do with farmers changing their methods and was the

result of good rainfall.

At Khmer New Year, the Royal astrologer predicted in the "Year of the Pig"

the rice crop would be destroyed by rats, insects and adverse weather conditions.

While at the Royal Plowing ceremony on May 5 - a traditional harbinger of fortune

for the harvest -the Royal oxen did not eat rice, preferring corn instead: a bad

sign for rice farmers who, dependent on the rains, put their faith in superstition.

Pok Touch, 34, a farmer in Kampong Speu province, lacks irrigation and depends entirely

on the rainfall for production. He said he was worried about rice farming this year

after he heard the Royal oxen refused to eat rice.

"I think if we cannot produce a good crop, not only my family but other farmers

won't have enough rice to eat next year," Touch said. "I did have some

chicken and ducks as well as rice farming, but they died from the hot weather."

Tong Yves said farmers believed in the predictions of the Royal Astrologer and the

Plowing Ceremony but said if rainfall was equivalent to last year, he expected the

rice yield would improve.

"But we can not say anything right now. It just depends on the weather,"

he said.



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