Aglobal research program to determine how to properly manage the resources of
key river basins brought a number of representatives from Mekong River countries
and international research institutions to Phnom Penh March 26-27.
CGIAR Challenge Program on water and food was initiated in November last year to
increase food production in agriculture without increasing water use beyond
levels used in 2000.
The Mekong River Basin was one of seven picked for
the study because of the dual pressures of population growth and economic
development. Other basins to be researched include the Nile, China's Yellow
River and Brazil's Sao Francisco.
In his opening speech at the 'Kick-off
Workshop in the Mekong', Joern Kristensen, chief executive officer of the Mekong
River Commission (MRC), said the outcome of the two-day talks was critical to
the success of the CGIAR program and to ongoing development of the Mekong
"It is estimated that food demand in the Mekong River Basin will
increase by between 25 percent and 50 percent in the next 25 years, with a
corresponding increase in water demand," said Kristensen, whose agency will
coordinate research efforts.
An independent review panel will select
projects for funding later this year. Its priorities are to establish the value
of resources, the trends in their use, improve food security, and assess social
as well as environmental consequences of different food production systems. The
total budget for the first cycle of research for this 'Blue Revolution' was set
at $40 million.
"We need to be able to compare where you get the best
value for your drop of water," said Ian Campbell, the MRC's senior environmental
In contrast to many other countries, Cambodia uses a
traditional system of agriculture. Mark Rosegrant, senior research fellow at the
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said Vietnam no longer
used the deep water rice farming methods still prevalent in Cambodia. However
most of the rice grown for export by Vietnam, which is among the world's leading
rice exporters, comes from just across the border.
Irrigation methods in
Cambodia vary from heavy to barely any, said the International Rice Research
Institute's T P Tuong, but he cautioned against thinking about food in terms of
only production. He gave as a good example Northern Thailand, where high quality
rice is grown with minimum output by use of rain-fed technology.
suppose the whole thing revolves around economic return," said Tuong. "The need
for intensification here [in Cambodia] is much less."
said one challenge was that the Mekong basin spanned several countries, which
brought in important trans-boundary issues. On the positive side, he said,
structures such as the MRC were in place that could help to manage
"It's not too late to do things right," he said.