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Old habits put crops at risk: study

People place freshly harvested cassava into a processor in Tbong Khmum province earlier this year before laying it out to be dried.
People place freshly harvested cassava into a processor in Tbong Khmum province earlier this year before laying it out to be dried. Heng Chivoan

Old habits put crops at risk: study

A new academic report has urged farmers in the northwest of the Kingdom to change their planting ways if they want to mitigate the detrimental impacts of climate change on their crops.

The report, which was published in the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability on June 1, surveyed almost 400 households in Battambang province’s Samlot district and Pailin’s Sala Krao district on their perceptions of climate change.

Farmers estimated that while almost 70 per cent of their household income came from upland crops such as maize, cassava and soybean in a normal year, that shrunk to a mere 14 per cent in a drought-affected year – forcing them to rely more heavily on casual work and loans.

The report found that while the farmers perceived climate change to have a big impact on their yields, they did little to mitigate the risk.

“February-March planting by farmers is becoming an increasingly risky practice due to low rainfall and rising temperatures,” the report read, while urging farmers to sow their crops in May instead.

“This study suggests the farmers do not have an effective strategy to adapt to the increasingly drier and hotter climate in the late dry season.”

But the report also cautioned against taking farmers’ perceptions of less rainfall and yield levels at face value, as they did not align with Battambang official statistics; however, report author Touch Van said farmers still needed to adapt to delayed rainy seasons and hotter dry spells.

Van, a researcher with the department of agronomy and soil science at the University of New England in Australia, said poor management of farms could have a major impact and encouraged farmers to diversify their crops and avoid erosion.

“Farmers should be more efficient; they should use technology. We are talking about good quality seed and better management of soil water and nutrients,” Van said.

He added that the government needed to bridge the large gap between researchers’ findings on best techniques and farmers’ practice.

“If the government can provide seasonal rainfall forecasting for the famer, that is very helpful,” he said.

Hean Vanhan, deputy-general director of the agriculture department within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said climate variability and drought were big concerns for upland crops, but added the government had technical support for farmers set up in each province.

“The farmer is facing more and more risk . . . They need to prepare the land before cultivation . . . and also the farmer can choose crops that are more drought-resistant,” Vanhan said.

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