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Govt seeks $200 million for irrigation system

The government is seeking a $200-million loan from Qatar for an irrigation system aimed at boosting agricultural production in eastern Cambodia.

“We proposed that Qatar provide us a loan to build an irrigation system using the Vaiko River in Svay Rieng province,” Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters in Phnom Penh on May 7.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani visited Cambodia early last month to discuss business and investment opportunities here. During the visit, Qatari officials gave the government six documents related to investment, technical cooperation commercial opportunities in Cambodia.

A Qatari delegation is scheduled to meet Cambodian officials in December to discuss the documents with a view to signing some or all of them that month, Namhong said.

“We very much welcome Qatari investment in our country,” he said.

The Vaiko River runs through Svay Rieng province but could also irrigate farms in Prey Veng and Kampong Cham provinces, reaching a total of more than 300,000 hectares of farmland.

Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said Svay Rieng province was in great need of a large-scale irrigation system.

The Vaiko River would need to be deepened and outlets created to connect to rice fields, he said.

Saing Koma added that Cambodia needs to spend at least $500 million on irrigation systems over the next 10 years if it is to bring agricultural production up to levels near its potential.

The country suffers yearly droughts, hurting crops harvests.

Currently less than 10 percent of the country’s rice farms are connected to an irrigation system.

Srun Darith, Deputy Secretary General of the cabinet’s Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, said Cambodia needed to invest heavily in irrigation if the government’s goal of becoming the world’s top rice exporter by 2015 is to be realized.

“Irrigation is a necessary project – we will no longer depend on rain in this era,” Darith said.

Cambodia in recent years has exported about two million tons of rice annually. Rice farming accounts for more than 30 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product.

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