A report from the Cambodia Agriculture Research and Development Institute (CARDI), a semi-autonomous organisation, showed that 83 per cent of farmers surveyed in Kampong Speu, Kampot and Kampong Cham provinces had noticed the effects of climate change.
The report, which surveyed 150 rice farmers and is used by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF) to formulate a 2016 to 2018 strategic plan, noted that rice farmers had experienced prolonged dry seasons, a shortened wet season and decreased annual precipitation.
Farmers in the three provinces emphasised that climate change reduced crop production, deteriorated soil fertility, and had significantly dropped crop yields.
Ouk Makara, director of CARDI, explained that the organisation is looking to introduce rice seeds that are more resistant to the effects of climate change.
“We are working on rice seeds that resist flood, drought and resistance to heat,” he said.
“At the same time, we are also studying issues related to irrigation and plantation systems that work for when there is less access to water,” he said. However, he added that the government’s financial resources were limited to address the effects of climate change.
Mey Kalyan, senior adviser to the Supreme National Economic Council, said that climate change has already had tangible effects on the Kingdom’s agricultural sector as last year’s production remained flat.
“Generally, we cannot avoid the suffering caused by climate change. What is happening now is inevitable and farmers are the most affected,” he said, adding that as the country continues to solely rely on rain-fed production, the sector will diminish.
He said that the government had recognised the challenges climate change presented, and that it had established a technical committee to address the issues of seeds and irrigation.
Sam Vitou, executive director for Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), explained that for small-scale farmers, the key to adapting to the changing environment would come in the form of crop diversification.
“Farmers need to have multi-purpose farms that can raise fish and vegetables. If you are only growing rice, there is no way to adapt even if you plant different seeds,” he said. He added that if farmers diversify they also don’t have to rely on a single harvest season.
While the report from CARDI did not weigh the economic costs of climate change, Vitou said that by calculating the data from the ministry of agriculture, the Kingdom sustained a loss of $17 million in rice production in 2015 – a year of prolonged drought exacerbated by the El Niño meteorological phenomenon.