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Program aims to boost rice resilience to climate change

Farmers work in a field to plant rice crops in Kampong Cham in 2013
Farmers work in a field to plant rice crops in Kampong Cham in 2013. Yesterday a USAID-financed project was launched with the aim to encourage small farmers to adopt more resilient rice varieties. Hong Menea

Program aims to boost rice resilience to climate change

As climate change increases the severity of droughts and floods across the Kingdom, a push is being made for farmers to adopt more resistant rice varieties.

The Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute launched a USAID-financed project in Phnom Penh yesterday in a bid to “accelerate the adoption of stress-tolerant rice varieties by smallholder farmers”.

The project will last three years and be implemented in both Cambodia and Nepal, with each country allocated $3 million.

“Drought and flood are the two biggest constraints to rice production,” IRRI representative Dule Zhao told the Post yesterday.

“Now that we have a lot of flooding problems, if the [seed] variety we are using is not stress tolerant then the damage will be much bigger.”

The project will aim to train farmers, seed companies, and farmers’ associations to use better quality seeds for their crop.

One thousand farmers will be selected across the country and given a small amount of seed free of charge, with one of the main goals being in-house production of quality Cambodian seeds.

“Most of the farmers, they use their own stored seed – they just use their seed from the previous crop,” Zhao said.

Thy Sokhun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, said at the project’s unveiling in Phnom Penh yesterday that over one million hectares of farmland were damaged by drought and floods from 2011 to 2013.

“Considering the potential impacts of global warming and climate change, damage attributable to floods and droughts is expected to become more severe,” he said.

Despite the increasing impact of such factors, Cambodian farms remain vulnerable due to a lack of quality seed production and dissemination, according to Sokhun.

“The primary reasons for the rather slow pace of advancement of the production and marketing of rice seed are that these are relatively unprofitable activities that are unattractive to private investors”, he said.

Abdelbagi Ismail, principal scientist at the IRRI, said that Cambodia’s initial advantage in overcoming a lack of seed varieties was its open economy and strong links to Thailand and Vietnam, which respectively rank as the second and third largest exporters worldwide.

But Ismail said that as farmland gets gobbled up by construction projects and Cambodia’s population continues to increase, the Kingdom’s rice fields need to become more productive to compete.

“Cambodia has to develop its own markets, and Cambodia has to develop its own brand.”

Although Cambodia is the world’s fifth-largest rice exporter, the country’s average rice yield per hectare stands at a relatively low 3.2 tonnes, while neighbouring Vietnam’s is at around 5 tonnes, according to the Agriculture Ministry. The Cambodian government plans to export one million tonnes of rice this year, a massive increase from the less than 400,000 tonnes that were exported in 2014.

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