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Rice farmers looking at dry spell

A farmer harvests his rice crop in Russey Keo district earlier this year. The government has asked rice farmers to only plant one crop of rice this dry season in an effort to avert water shortages.
A farmer harvests his rice crop in Russey Keo district earlier this year. The government has asked rice farmers to only plant one crop of rice this dry season in an effort to avert water shortages. Vireak Mai

Rice farmers looking at dry spell

Farmers and exporters have expressed concerns over an Agriculture Ministry notice issued on Wednesday asking farmers to have only one harvest this upcoming dry season because of water shortages across the country, given that this could affect the paddy output next year.

The ministry notice cited a prolonged El Niño period going into next year and suggested that farmers refrain from planting a second rice crop, even if they had access to sufficient water. Instead, the ministry said farmers could plant other less water-intensive crops.

“Farmers should not plant rice for a second time this dry season, because it will consume more water,” said Eang Sophallet, spokesman of Ministry of Agriculture. “They should keep water for daily usage and start farming crops that do not need much water.”

Given the drought conditions in certain parts of the country, Sophallet said the ministry will cooperate with farmers on conserving water and help them with planting other crops.

“It will impact slightly the livelihood of farmers and the rice industry. Based on the estimates the impact will be only 1 per cent on exports,” Sophallet said.

Som Song, director of Chamroeurn Phal Raingkesey agriculture community in Battambang, said farmers were aware of the low water levels and drought-like conditions, but were worried if they could not plant a second rice crop.

“The water channel and ponds in the commune are drying, and it will dry up by February,” he said, “I hope that the government will dig the deep well for us, but I am still worried.”

According to Song, 90 per cent of the people, which was around 2,000 families, in his commune were dependent on rice farming and restrictions on planting a second crop could affect their incomes. He added that planting a new type of crop was easier said than done.

“We do not have the experience to grow other crops and it is not in our interests to do it because it will be difficult to payback our loans,” he said, “Most young farmers will have to leave and work outside the province again.”

Song Saran, CEO of rice exporter Amru Rice, said the reduction in production will affect the output of white rice, which is expected to be harvested in the next two weeks.

He added that this could also impact the price of white rice in the market – a product which is already facing intense competition from Myanmar rice exports.

“The drought will impact exports because we will have the shortage of white rice, which is in high demand in the market and the price will increase,” Saran said.

He added that farmers normally have more paddy than can be bought by rice millers, which they stored and then sold to neighbouring countries.

This additional income, he said, will become more difficult to earn if farmers are unable to grow and store enough rice.

Srey Chanthy, an independent economist specialising in agriculture, said that with almost 80 per cent of the workforce dependent on rice farming, there was a greater need for better irrigational facilities, which could lessen the effects of the El Niño.

“Farmers have no choice but to do rice farming, because they do not know the technicalities of other crops and the land conditions may not be conducive as well,” he said, adding that in such a situation farming communities will see more people moving to the cities to work in garment factories.

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