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Rice harvest estimates taken with a grain of salt

A farmer works in a parched rice paddy in Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district during a drought in 2012.
A farmer works in a parched rice paddy in Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district during a drought in 2012. Heng Chivoan

Rice harvest estimates taken with a grain of salt

New government estimates on this year’s rice production and forecasts for next year’s crop may be overly optimistic, industry experts say, factoring in the impact of a drought that damaged crops and is expected to carry over into the next dry season harvest.

The Ministry of Agriculture estimated that total rice production during this year’s wet season would top 7.17 million tonnes, edging up less than 1 per cent over last year’s harvest, while the coming dry season would see a 6 per cent drop in year-on-year production to 2.05 million tonnes.

Srey Chanthy, an agricultural economist, said these are only preliminary estimates, but they could be a little optimistic given the prolonged drought conditions in the country.

“I assume that the yield and total production for the wet season rice crop may be much lower than this,” he said. “I am not convinced that the [coming] dry season could be any better, as water is scarcer this year.”

The rainy season just finished last month, but already there are signs that water bodies in many of the provinces are starting to dry up. Chanthy added, however, that production areas close to the Mekong and Tonle Sap river systems could be fine.

Despite concerns about a delay and lack of rain this year, the Ministry of Agriculture report found that only 240,000 hectares of the 2.5 million hectares used for cultivating rice was impacted by water shortages, with only 41,100 hectares damaged as a result.

Song Saran, CEO of rice-exporting firm Amru Rice, said it was difficult to estimate white rice production levels, which is used for local consumption, but there was a clear albeit small drop in this year’s wet season production of export products, such as jasmine and fragrant rice.

“It is expected we’ll see a little bit of a drop and the quality will drop as well,” Saran said. “But the drop will not be [severe] because we had some rain in October, which will help the result of the wet season crop.”

Concerning the production estimates for the upcoming dry season, Saran said it was difficult to predict exactly how much of the crop would be affected, given that planting is still underway.

He said farmers have been complaining of low water levels, but the late rains in October and November could provide a glimmer of hope.

“We would like to see the crop remain unaffected by the drought, but so far as I know, it is already affected,” he said. “We expected the [decline in production] will be more than the one announced by the ministry.”

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