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Climate change turns up heat on local farms

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A boy walks in a rice field affected by drought in Lvea Em district of Kandal province. Heng Chivoan

Climate change turns up heat on local farms

Climate change has severely impacted Cambodia’s agricultural sector, food security and rural people’s livelihoods, according to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon. The minister warned that from 2025-2050, agricultural areas could experience an increased incidence of drought.

Sakhon made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the virtual regional workshop “Agro-ecological and safe food transitions for green, resilient and inclusive recovery in the ASEAN region”, which was attended by representatives of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP), UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for Asia and the Pacific, as well as ASEAN member states and development partners.

Sakhon said the country’s agricultural sector had grown rapidly since the early 2000s, accounting for about 30 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employing about 60 per cent of the domestic labour force before the Covid-19 crisis.

“All these positive factors have come from the expansion of agricultural land in both the lowlands and highlands and growth in production due to the increase in the use of machinery, irrigation, agricultural inputs such as seeds, a variety of animals, different crop types and vegetables, and chemical fertilisers and pesticides,” he said.

He also acknowledged that using more land, chemical fertilisers and pesticides had introduced serious social, economic and environmental problems. The other issue that stalled economic growth in the region was the Covid-19 pandemic, and Cambodia was no exception.

“Under the high emissions scenario (SREAS-A2), agricultural yields will also be affected. Obviously, the impact on the agricultural sector resulted from flooding [62 per cent] and drought [36 per cent], especially for small-sized farmers who are vulnerable because they rely on rainwater and cannot change crops in line with global climate change,” he said.

Population growth has caused other rapid changes from less forest cover to more agricultural land and the conversion of traditional agriculture to intensive agriculture or mixed farming systems. Increased demand for agricultural products in domestic and foreign markets had severely affected the amount of forest cover, biodiversity, erosion and loss of soil quality.

He continued that without any clear emergency intervention plan to mitigate the effects of climate change, it will continue to have a significant impact through less rainfall, drought, heat waves, landslides and floods, which are the main factors affecting agricultural yields.

“Soil quality restoration and conservation of water sources and natural forests are the most urgent areas to push for agricultural sustainability and contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation,” he said.

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