$61 million irrigation system largest ever, PM says

Prime Minister Hun Sen broke ground yesterday in Battambang province on a 332-kilometer irrigation system, costing approximately $61 million, which he said was the largest ever investment in irrigation in the country.

A loan of more than $47 million from the Chinese government and $13.5 million in government funds will pay for the project in Banan district, which is almost double the cost of another recent irrigation project, the prime minister said. The system will serve 40,000 hectares of rice fields, he said.

“I believe that this is the biggest project that has spent the most money compared to the…South Korean project when we spent $33 million,” the prime minister said, adding that he will ask China to contribute more funds for further expansion of irrigation in the country.

“Chinese involvement in this issue will help Cambodia’s future move faster,” Mr Hun Sen said, adding that in 2010 and 2011, the Water Resources Ministry will be allotted $310 million for irrigation works, including a large amount of Chinese assistance.

Sieng Suthang, Battambang deputy provincial governor, said Battambang province produces 700,000 tons of rice a year on 260,000 hectares, and sends 300,000 tons outside the provincial borders.

The new irrigation system will allow the province to produce more rice in the dry season and dramatically increase annual rice yields.

“With the same land we could grow rice during two seasons. We could not order the rain or floods to help the rice before. But after we have the irrigation we can order the water to this and that place during both the rainy and dry seasons.”

Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said proper maintenance and operation of irrigation is essential to lasting benefits.

“At the moment, we still don’t have enough irrigation systems, we have a lot of irrigation built but we have the problem of how to maintain it on a long-term basis,” he said.

He also said the government needs to be prepared for the social problems that irrigation could cause. Irrigation requires people to give up land and benefits some farmers more than other leading to disputes, he said.

“The bigger it becomes the more problems that can arise,” he said.

   (Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)


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