Prime Minister Hun Sen has told Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina to devise plans for guaranteeing a steady supply of high-quality seeds of the many varieties that the government currently stockpiles.
Hun Sen noted that if the government’s stocks were depleted by heavy flood damage, for example, it would be forced to buy fresh stocks on the open market. By establishing a supply of its own, the government could guarantee the purity and quality of the seeds it issued to the victims of natural disasters.
“I remind the minister that we should come up with methods of producing our own high-quality rice seeds. We should attempt to secure our own supply so that we are not dependent on the open market, should our stocks decline,” he said.
The premier made the suggestions on October 24 while meeting with 10,000 flood-afflicted farming households in Battambang province, where he also provided them with several varieties of seed and emergency food supplies.
He suggested that Tina choose any area with enough water sources and then supply the local farmers with the kinds of rice seeds that will grow well there. Once it has grown, the government will purchase some of it to stockpile.
“We need to do so to ensure that we have the possibility of supplying existing varieties of rice from each area. Certain varieties of rice aren’t native to Battambang, so we have taken them from other provinces. What we need to do is make sure that we have enough stored for each province. For example, how many tonnes in Battambang do we need to stockpile?” he said.
“If we can establish a plantation of 1,000ha or so, with probably about 500 households producing rice for us, we should be able to store enough. If not, we could appeal to the private sector, and perhaps sign contracts for them to supply us,” he added.
He said good cultivation yields come from planting the correct varieties of rice, noting that he had spent half of his life trying to alter people’s mindsets so they would employ the strain that was best for their circumstances.
He believed that since becoming prime minister in 1985, he had been able to change most people’s minds.
“Now the people have changed their attitudes, but the problem lies with a shortage of the specific varieties that we need. This problem is aggravated by situations like the flooding which recently occurred,” he said.
“We have worked hard to take varieties of rice from this or that place and distribute them to the farmers of Battambang. But we need to devise better ways of ensuring reliable stocks,” he said.
Battambang governor Sok Lou said that since September 28, flooding caused by torrential rains has affected 502 villages in 91 communes of 14 towns and districts in the province. Nearly 30,000 households had been affected, over 1,000 of which had been evacuated to high ground.
He added that the floods had damaged over 20,000ha of rice fields and affected over 30,000ha of other cash crops.
Meeting with farmers on October 23, Ngin Chhay, head of the agriculture ministry’s General Directorate of Agriculture, suggested that the large quantities of seed and pesticides being used were responsible for the rising cost of rice production in Anlong Run commune of Battambang province’s Thma Koul district.
While inspecting flood-damaged fields, he asked farmers about the production costs, and learnt that a plague of red snails had resulted in a surge in the amount of pesticide the farmers were employing.
Some of the farmers explained that because of the snail infestation, they were forced to use a lot of varieties of rice to offset the destruction. As a result, they spend a lot of money on fertilisers.
Chhay recommended modern techniques which would reduce their costs and improve their profit margins.