Just four hundred hectares of land remains affected by drought in Battambang province, after four districts finally received rain over the past week, provincial agriculture officials said yesterday.
Cheam Chansophorn, director of the provincial department of agriculture, said that the dry area – a small proportion of the 10,000 hectares deemed at drought risk last week – was in the province’s Thma Koul district.
“Our annual goal was to cultivate 250,000 hectares of rice, and so far we’ve met 82 percent of that goal,” he said. “All the farmers are happy that they’ve received rain. Our rice could have died, but now we can complete the harvest as planned.”
The good news was tempered by reports that 1,000 hectares of rice fields spanning two districts in neighbouring Pursat province were under threat of drought.
“Five communes in Phnom Kravanh district as well as some communes in Sampov Meas district are facing drought,” Lay Piseth, director of Pursat’s provincial department of agriculture, said yesterday. He added that the department had met with affected villagers yesterday to discuss a plan of action.
“Rice cultivation in Phnom Kravanh and Sampov Meas districts is extremely behind schedule, only 20 percent of the crop has been harvested so far, which is worrying,” he said. “Pursat province as a whole is faring better, and 64.3 percent of the provincial crop has been harvested.”
Drought is common in many provinces, including Battambang and Pursat, Oxfam’s regional communications officer Soleak Seang said yesterday. He added that drought often occurs sporadically, crippling some districts and sparing others.
“We have seen a change in the weather in recent years,” he said. “If you ask farmers, they’ll tell you that the rain has become more unpredictable.”
This unpredictability often “hits the poorest people first and hardest,” Soleak Seang said. “Drought forces some farmers to sell off their productive assets, their land, their house, and their buffaloes, in order to pay for food.”
He added, however, that locals were “fighting back”, with some farmers switching their traditional rice cultivation techniques and using new seed varieties to fend off the effects of drought.