Bountiful Wet-Season Rice Crop Forecast

Cambodia’s wet-season rice crop could top 3 million tons if the rains remain constant, agriculture officials said Wednesday.

“If the rain is good until the end of the wet season it could yield a good rice crop,” Agriculture Minister Chhea Song said. “We hope there will be many, many thousand tons of surplus.”

Chhea Song said last year’s crop totaled more than 3 million tons, with more than 2.8 million tons harvested in the wet season. He said he expected this year’s crop to exceed that of 1998.

Although there was a surplus of 30,000 tons last year, a prolonged dry spell followed by weeks of heavy rain at the end of the season, in addition to pest infestations, plagued Cambodia’s farmers. But this year, said officials, there has been minimal damage so far to the country’s May-to-November rice crop from flooding, drought and insects.

Flood and drought have damaged about 12,000 hectares of paddies since May, according to Nuth Sakhan, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Agronomy Department. The provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Kampot, Takeo, Pursat, Kompong Cham and Sihanoukville have been particularly hard hit.

But only 81 hectares of paddies have been damaged by plant-hoppers and caterpillars in Kompong Cham province, compared to thousands of hectares of paddies destroyed in Takeo, Kompong Speu and Kompong Cham in 1998.

This has meant good news for consumers. Reuters reported last week that the local price of milled rice in Phnom Penh was low for this time of year.

The average price of milled rice was 850 to 1,000 riel per kilogram compared with 1,500 riel per kilogram last September when traders were scrambling to buy up supplies in border pro­vinces, after a poor harvest in Vietnam.

“Usually the price of rice is high in August and September, but this year it’s not because villagers have supplies from short-term crops and supplies left from last year,” Commerce Ministry Food Department Director Tes Eda told Reuters.

Chhea Song said because of the good crop prospects the government was not banning the export of rice this year and he will ask the Commerce Ministry to help find overseas markets for the surplus.

“If rice markets are not available for farmers, the standard of living will not improve,” he said.

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