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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Difficult rainy season ends

A young boy plants rice seedlings along a patch of damp ground in an empty Kampong Speu paddy during rainy season this year
A young boy plants rice seedlings along a patch of damp ground in an empty Kampong Speu paddy during rainy season this year. Victoria Mørck Madsen

Difficult rainy season ends

As a fickle rainy season that has seen areas of the country plagued by drought draws to a close, Cambodia’s rice production remains nearly on target, though food insecurity is still a problem for individual communities, according to the World Food Programme.

The season’s slow start affected 234,695 hectares of rice seedlings and destroyed 15,954 hectares, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Much of the affected areas have been re-planted, the WFP said yesterday.

Though this year’s rice crop may not reach last year’s record of 9.4 million tonnes, less than 1 per cent of the crop was destroyed, and food supplies will be sufficient for the country at large, according to WFP country director Gianpietro Bordignon.

“However, those communities without sufficient capacity to replant or access short-growing varieties of rice could be more affected than others," he said. “Don’t discount the local effects of the late rainfall.”

WFP identified 12 provinces that may have communes facing such food insecurity. These include Preah Vihear, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Prey Veng, Kampong Speu, Battambang and others.

The organisation is planning support programs, such as providing hot meals for primary school students as well as giving cash and rice assistance to their families.

Late rains also affected the nation’s rivers, reducing the amount of water available to inundate flood plains.

This caused fish yields to plummet, according to the Fishery Action Coalition Team, which recorded a total river catch decline from 24,000 tonnes last year to 12,285 tonnes this year. Fish is Cambodians’ main protein source.

According to data from the Mekong River Commission, the Mekong River was, at multiple sites, measured to be at its lowest point since 2010, when it reached a 50-year nadir. MRC said that low rainfall is the primary cause of the low water levels.

Bun Hean, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM), said that in parts of Cambodia, average rainfall was down from more than 1,300 millimetres in a regular wet season, to just 1,100 millimetres in 2015’s.

He also said that the Mekong River was at least 1.5 metres lower than it should be this month. In July, the river was 3 metres lower than normal, he said.

Hean said that El Niño, climate change and weather variation played a role in the water shortages this year.

He added that luck also played a role as most regional typhoons only brushed Cambodia instead of going inland.

However, he added, Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor blamed year-to-year weather variability and not long-term climate effects.

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