The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on May 10 clarified a recent Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcast which claimed to have cited some farmers in Battambang province as saying that they had been refused water during a drought.

In its May 8 broadcast, the US-funded news service said the authorities controlled sluice gates and refused to open them for people to use.

“Civil society officials suggest that the authorities address this problem for the people so that they can farm to support their families,” it said.

The ministry countered that all farmers had been warned about the expected shortages, saying the sluice gate in question had insufficient water reserves to be opened but officials still allowed farmers to pump water to their fields.

Its spokeswoman Im Rachna stressed that the ministry warned farmers about the drought on April 26, a full 13 days before RFA aired the “complaints”.

“We were prepared to deal with water shortages and did just that. It’s the RFA that did not do their research before reporting the situation … Our departments throughout the country had carried out their work even before the RFA broadcast their report,” she chided in a May 10 social media post, citing the departments’ notice to farmers.

Heng Sithy, a senior official at the Battambang provincial agriculture department, confirmed that the departments of agriculture and water resources and meteorology notified the public about possible water shortages in April, and laid out appropriate cultivation plans.

“There is very little water at Gate 8 of the Kamping Pouy basin. We still allowed people to use 16 water pumps to irrigate their fields, but RFA broadcast that we did not open the gate. That is the opposite of the factual situation,” he said.

He explained that the agricultural department – in collaboration with the provincial water resource department – shared a notice from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, warning of possible shortages at the end of the dry season. The departments had instructed farmers not to cultivate their land, and issued notices in all villages, communes and districts.

He added that there were still water shortages in Ta Kream and Dangkot Thnong villages of Banan district’s Ta Kream commune.

Chan Vannak, a farmer in Banan district’s Snoeng commune, said authorities in his village and commune had provided the villagers with information on the coming water shortages, but some of them had not paid close attention to the instructions.

“My commune had few problems with shortages, because most farmers discontinued cultivating their land for fear of drought. They were notified, and opted not to grow rice for fear that it would fail and they would suffer a huge financial loss,” he added.