The increase in commercial dry-season rice cultivation in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap floodplain is threatening the survival of the critically endangered Bengal florican, a new study suggests.
Conducted by researchers from the Imperial College of London, the University of Oxford and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the study, which was published in the international journal of conservation Oryx on May 29, surveyed 616 households in 21 villages on their livelihood activities at the Tonle Sap Floodplain Protected Landscape in Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces.
Results showed a sharp increase in the number of farmers who have adopted dry-season rice cultivation since 2005. Among these farmers, almost half grew more than one crop per year.
According to the study, not only does the rice cultivation encroach on breeding areas, agro-chemical use affects the species’ food source.
As opposed to cultivating just one crop per year, which “doesn’t overlap much with the florican breeding season”, the cultivation of two crops annually “means that the fields are flooded throughout the time when the floricans are trying to breed”, WCS’s Senior Technical Advisor Simon Mahood explained in an email yesterday.
He said that the increase in dry-season rice adoption could be attributed to its profitability and reliability.“Irrigation infrastructure has been improved and farming methods have been mechanised, so they are able to grow two crops instead of one,” he added.
With less than 800 of these rare birds left globally, Cambodia is the home of more than half, and is therefore “the most important country worldwide for Bengal florican conservation”, according to the WCS.
To protect the Bengal florican population, farmers might have to give up doubling their annual crop cultivation.
“Bengal floricans can breed in dry-season rice fields as long as only one crop of rice is cultivated each year and areas of long grass are retained in head-ponds or along broad embankments,” the press release reads.
To convince farmers to stick to just one crop per year, Mahood suggested educating them on its benefits.
“Growing two crops of rice requires a lot of chemical use, which reduces soil fertility over time and therefore reduces yields whilst increasing the costs of inputs,” he said. “Growing one crop of rice each year and then leaving it fallow or planting a legume maintains the soil fertility and means that fields don’t need to be abandoned due to the soil being exhausted.”