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A family plants a crop of rice in their paddy yesterday in Kandal province. Experts have warned that if reduced precipitation caused by El Niño continues, it could lead to food shortages. Pha Lina

Clock ticks on rice harvest

As el niño continues to buffet Cambodia, the next two weeks could be crucial in determining whether the Kingdom will suffer from a smaller-than-usual rice harvest and potential food shortages, experts said yesterday.

The bulk of the rice harvested in Cambodia is normally planted between May and July, but amid unusually high temperatures and reduced precipitation, concerns are mounting regarding the hardships farmers might face and how it could affect their crops, according to a report released late last week by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

But those concerns are already the reality for farmers on the ground, Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture environment program director Keam Makarady said yesterday.

“The farmers who started growing rice are already seeing a significant portion of their plants die,” said Makarady, who works with farmers located in 22 provinces.

“About 30 per cent of farmers in Cambodia have started farming, but since there hasn’t been much rain, they couldn’t grow full rice paddies like before.”

According to Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries general director So Khan Rithykun, Cambodia was forced to begin its planting season later this year due to the lack of constant rainfall.

He added that provinces like Kampong Speu and Svay Rieng, which typically start their rainy season later, are experiencing the brunt of the drought.

“There are some provinces that have been affected, but they could recover,” Rithykun said.

“So we’re monitoring the weather patterns very closely . . . because if not enough rain comes in the next two weeks, then there could be some problems.”

Cambodia and its neighbours have received some precipitation over the past few days after typhoon Chan-hom slammed into China’s east coast, but Mekong River Commission Drought Management Program technical adviser Ian Thomas said he’s “not that confident” it will be enough, as weather indicators have “been bad up to now”.

“El Niño could either kick back in or the rainy season might finally come,” Thomas said.

“But it also depends whether the monsoons will be strong enough to grow rice. Either way, I would be worried if I was a farmer.”

Makarady agreed, saying that if Cambodia doesn’t receive ample precipitation by August, it will lead to “big problems for the country”.

“If this happens, then Cambodia will definitely have issues with food security and shortages, so we keep on hoping that the rain will come,” he said.

Rithykun, however, said such concerns are exaggerated.

“There will be problems, but I don’t think it will go that far,” he said. “If there’s still not enough rain in the next two weeks, then we will [intervene] for farmers.”

The MAFF plans to advise farmers to only plant medium to early-duration varieties of rice, which grow after three to four months, instead of the usual long-duration rice crop that takes six to seven months until it can be harvested.

FAO officials were not available for comment.

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