Prime Minister Hun Sen emphasised the need for the agriculture ministry to address water-related challenges faced by farmers, urging it to find ways to extend the growing season and allow farmers to produce up to three rice crops each year.

While addressing a May 15 graduation ceremony for over 3,000 students from the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA), Prek Leap National Institute of Agriculture and Kampong Cham National Institute of Agriculture, the premier also stressed the importance of integrating technology into the agricultural sector to foster its growth.

Hun Sen reflected on the evolution of farming practices, recalling that in the past, five farmers would need 1ha of land to cultivate and 10 farmers would require 2ha. He said that while this old-fashioned mindset has largely changed, land scarcity remains a challenge, necessitating more efficient cultivation techniques.

“We need to address this problem by tackling water issues and thereby extending the growing season. One hectare of land, which used to sustain only five people, would as a result support 20 or more individuals. By resolving water challenges, farmers can cultivate their land two or three times a year.”

He further illustrated the potential benefits, saying: “Currently, it takes just 78 days for our Kangrei rice variety to be harvested, which saves time. With three harvests a year, 1ha of land would effectively become 3ha.”

In recent developments, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries released two new rice varieties: Champei Sar 70 and Kangrei. These varieties boast high yields and shorter cultivation periods. Champei Sar 70, a “fast-growing” fragrant rice, is ready for harvest within 93-97 days after cultivation. It reportedly offers crystal-clear, aromatic grains and yields between 3.2 and 4.9 tonnes per hectare.

Kangrei rice variety, on the other hand, exhibits faster growth and can be harvested within 78-84 days after cultivation. It is suitable for cultivation throughout the year and yields between 4.3 and 7.1 tonnes per hectare.

Hun Sen stressed the importance of developing high-yielding varieties while emphasising the need for technological integration in the agricultural sector. He regarded this integration as essential for sectoral growth, stating: “We must all make concerted efforts, as this is not solely the responsibility of the agriculture ministry, but a collective endeavour of the entire nation. Our agricultural landscape covers vast hectares of land and requires intensive labour. Therefore, we must study our land.”

The premier urged the ministry to prioritise technical research and promote techniques that engage farmers. He proposed deploying agricultural technicians to work closely with farmers, in addition to sending technical officials to all communes. These technicians would educate farmers on cultivation techniques, the use of rice varieties, animal husbandry, fish farming and animal disease prevention.

Acknowledging the ministry’s existing mechanisms as insufficient, Hun Sen called for the implementation of intervention procedures and individual initiatives to enhance agricultural practices.

Furthermore, he emphasised the significance of farmers’ associations in negotiating prices with traders, citing the market’s influential role in boosting production. He stressed that the agricultural sector’s scope extends beyond basic farming activities, asserting that without a market, agricultural production would not thrive. He encouraged interventions that promote value addition and processing capabilities among farmers.

During the ceremony, agriculture minister Dith Tina mentioned that the three agricultural higher education institutions are engaged in research and crop production utilising atomic technology. Collaborating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the trio strive to enhance quality and innovation through various research projects and partnerships with the private sector and development partners.