battambang town – Faced with rice fields turning brown and red, farmers and agriculture officials are worried over next year’s food levels in this top rice-producing province.
Officials from the provincial Agriculture department warned that farmers here may not be able to reach next year’s food needs if the drought continues beyond the end of July.
But agronomists and a meteorology department official in Phnom Penh said earlier this month that the nationwide dryness is normal and should end in the coming days.
Farmers interviewed Thursday feared continued dryness and said some fields have nearly been destroyed. The fields will be ruined unless they get rain immediately, the farmers said.
“Rain has been late. It’s usually falling by June. It’s dangerous if rainfall is delayed for another month,” said Leng Lay Heng, deputy chief of the agronomy department here. If normal rainfalls don’t resume until September, it will be too late to replant ruined rice fields, he said.
Bou Dos, director of planning for the department of Agriculture, explained that the amount of rainfall directly affects rice production levels. “We’re worried,” he said, “but what we need to do now is wait and see if the rain comes.”
According to a July agronomy department report, this season’s rice planting is larger than last year’s, but officials believe this harvest will produce less because of drought.
Last year, drought destroyed 52 percent of a total 190,364 hectares of rice fields in Battambang province, according to the agronomy department report.
“This year, the percentage [of destroyed crop] might be higher because the rainfall has been poor since the rainy season began,” said Khath Borin, an agronomy department planning officer.
No government intervention or measures have been taken yet, but the Ministry of Agriculture issued a guideline telling farmers to try planting rice close by water sources, Leng Lay Heng said. The ministry normally distributes gas for government irrigation stations to pump water into farmers’ rice fields, Bou Dos said.
Irrigation and hydrology officers here said the water level of irrigation systems and rivers this season are low compared to water levels in the same month last year. Last year saw early flooding, followed by a dry July and August.
“You can see it’s dry because there is no water. The canal can stock water, but it has run out because there’s no rain to fill it up,” said Touch Thoeun, a rice farmer in O Taki commune, 18 km north of Battambang town.
She said 100 kg of her rice plants died already. “These are new rice plants I had just re-grown,” she said, pointing to her fields behind her wooden house.
Farmer Sorn Chan said if rain starts falling now, she’ll be able to start planting again.
“It cannot be predicted about how the harvest season of this rice crop will turn out. It’s up to the kindness of Devada if she wants to help us,” she said.