Hundreds of corn farmers blocked a main road in Battambang province on Thursday, hoping the barricade would persuade Prime Minister Hun Sen to put pressure on traders to raise the dwindling crop prices that are hurting their livelihoods.
Starting at 8 a.m., about 500 farmers blocked National Road 57B in Kamrieng district with roughly 30 trucks, farmer Un Srey Oun said.
The farmers resorted to the blockade after the price of their crops dropped dramatically this year, thinking that if they could catch the attention of Mr. Hun Sen, he could encourage dealers to hike their prices, she said.
Ms. Srey Oun, 40, said she couldn’t afford to hire farmworkers, so her children had been forced to drop out of school to help.
“Our family has been indebted for several years now. The only income is our seasonal crop harvest, like cassava and corn,” she said. “Nobody besides Samdech Techo [Hun Sen] will take action.”
Men Horn, 57, who has farmed 10 hectares of land in the district since 1997, said her situation was the worst she had experienced in the last two decades.
“I’ve never experienced such a drop. I would like to seek help from Samdech Hun Sen. I know it is only he who could help us on this issue,” she said. “Please help raise the price. I am so miserable, extremely poor right now. My fellow villagers are crying, too.”
A representative for Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet said no specific requests had been filed, but it would assess any once they were received.
Om Savorn, deputy chief of the Agriculture Ministry in Kamrieng district, said it would be tough for the crop dealers to offer more money due to falling prices in Thailand.
“Last year, the price of the crops started at 4.5 baht [about $0.13] per kilogram in the beginning of the harvest, which is supposed to be this month. Now it already started at 3 baht [about $0.08] for corn per kilogram,” he said.
Hean Vanhorn, director-general of the Agriculture Ministry’s agriculture department, said it could not control the price once the harvest had started.
“We can’t control the price unless we set a price from the beginning of the farming season and we need to know how much Thai farmers get as well,” he said.
Deputy provincial governor Nguon Ratanak said he told the farmers a working group would be formed and officials would forward their concerns to Thai and Cambodian traders, but he tried to temper expectations.
“We are going to have a meeting with the corn middle traders. We can’t force them to raise the price,” he said. “It’s a free market.”
Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, said there needed to be more dialogue between farmers and the Agriculture Ministry.
“For the price, they obviously can’t help, but the ministry needs to help facilitate with the traders on behalf of the farmers…or the farmers will feel discouraged, and their debt keeps increasing,” he said.
The government needs to double its investment in the sector to $400 million, Mr. Savoeun said. Following negotiations with officials throughout the day, the farmers agreed to move at about 5 p.m. after Mr. Ratanak agreed to set up a working group, Ms. Srey Oun said. However, she said they would renew their protest in two days if the situation had not improved.
“I will come again and keep doing this until we reach a good deal,” she said.