An emergency relief effort is under way to boost agricultural production and head off food shortages resulting from drought, pests
LORD OF THE PESTS
Since crossing over from Vietnam, the so-called brown plant hopper (nilaparvata lugens) has wreaked havoc on Cambodia’s rice fields. Around 10,000 hectares of rice paddies were lost to the pests last year, said CEDAC President Yaing Sang Koma.
THE United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) will distribute US$200,000 worth of seed and fertiliser in a bid to raise domestic agricultural production and ease food costs, it has announced.
In partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (MAFF), the FAO plans to distribute 56 tonnes of rice seed and 140 tonnes of fertilisers to poor households in Takeo province as part of its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices project.
"Soaring food prices have hit this country particularly hard.... The price of foods and other commodities are now well beyond the reach of consumers," said Minister Chan Sarun and FAO country representative Omar Salah Ahmed in a joint statement Thursday.
Srun Sokhom, deputy director of agronomy and agricultural land improvement at MAFF, said that 2,800 rural families in Treang, Bati and Samraong districts would receive emergency rice seeds in order to alleviate the effects of drought and pests on the year's remaining harvests.
"We know that the impact of brown plant hoppers and drought was huge, so we are contributing emergency seed to vulnerable farmers," he said.
The FAO's distributions are intended to boost production during the current season and in the dry season harvest next year.
The relief package also includes 70 tonnes each of the petroleum-based fertilisers diammonium phosphate and urea, which due to spiralling global oil costs are beyond the reach of many Cambodian farmers.
Yaing Sang Koma, president of agricultural NGO CEDAC, said he did not oppose the FAO program, but added that increasing agricultural output would require longer-term solutions.
"I think they should also combine this with other activities and let farmers know that chemical fertiliser is not enough to increase harvests," he said, adding that education was the key to long-term development. "The program should be combined with education about rice-planting techniques," he said.
But Srun Sokhom said Takeo was hit particularly hard by drought and pests, adding that short-term relief was vital to avoid later food shortages. "In the three districts, we estimated 8,000 hectares of rice paddy were affected by drought and brown plant hoppers," he said.
"If we cannot help the farmers soon, individual households will face increasing food insecurity in the coming year."