In response to the official UN celebration, World Foodless Day seeks to draw attention to the root causes of Cambodia's rice shortage and explain why farmers are going hungry
Photo by: VANDY RATTANA
A boy cycles through a rice field in Takeo, where CEDAC has helped the farmers improve yields.
HALF a million Cambodians go hungry every day, said Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), last week, trying to draw attention to failing food security in the Kingdom.
His comments on Thursday - the UN-sponsored World Food Day - came as CEDAC and other NGOs held an alternative celebration: World Foodless Day.
This response to the official celebration aimed to "create public awareness on the root causes of the food crisis", according to a press release issued by organisers.
Yang Saing Koma said a recent study conducted by CEDAC in more than 2,000 villages found that nearly 60 percent of rice-farming families do not produce enough rice to supply their daily needs.
Of these, 30 percent must purchase rice for at least three months each year, while 15 percent must do so for six months or longer every year.
In real numbers, this means of the 1.8 million rice-growing families in Cambodia, nearly one million experience shortages of rice every year, he said, adding that most farmers cannot supplement their incomes to help offset recent hikes in commodity prices.
"When we combine these factors, it leads us to the conclusion that [Cambodia's] food supply isn't secure because of low production and low purchasing power of rural people," he said.
"Urban residents don't feel the impact as significantly because they don't depend on farming for their income."
Yang Saing Koma said climate change and poor irrigation are contributing to Cambodia's growing food security threat.
"There are some provinces, such as Prey Veng, Kampong Speu and Takeo, where villagers have not been able to plow because of low rainfall," he said.
Food supply isn't secure because of low production and purchasing power.
"If this continues, and we still lack sufficient irrigation systems, we will face a serious food crisis this year."
He said funds provided to the government from the Asian Development Bank have not been used efficiently, as they are given directly to poor farmers in the form of rice seeds instead of being invested in improving agricultural infrastructure.
"If the ADB wants to use their money more effectively and productively, they should offer credit at low interest rates for families to purchase rice stores from those farmers who often sell portions of their crops to Vietnam after the harvest. Families can then store the rice for when they need it," he said.
Vong Sondap, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance who is the project director for the government's Emergency Food Assistance program, said the ADB is preparing to implement a new effort in cooperation with the government to deal with food shortages in seven provinces and Phnom Penh.
The program, funded by $38 million from the ADB and $5 million from the government, will provide emergency food relief for communities in Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Siem Reap, Pursat, Battambang, Oddar Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey provinces, as well as three urban districts in Phnom Penh.
"The funds will help those half a million poor families and will be administered effectively because all our committees are working together to implement it," he said, adding the project will last three years and will begin this month.
Khem Chenda, director of the Administrative Affairs Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Cambodian farmers this year had actually exceeded the ministry's expectations for the number of hectares of planted rice.
He said the ministry planned for harvests of 2,237,400 hectares of rice crops, but that farmers had actually planted 2,241,113 hectares.
Khem Chenda acknowledged that Cambodia's rice farmers face challenges, particularly from insufficient irrigation.
"We have only 300,000 hectares of irrigated land nationwide," he said.