As Cambodia’s worst drought in years continues to savage this year’s rice crop, it is bringing a new crisis to the nation’s farmers: a flood of pests.
“This year we cannot avoid the insects. There will be a lot,” Ministry of Agriculture Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves said, speaking at a National Committee for Disaster Management conference last week.
Cambodia is in the midst of its worst drought since 1995, officials say, and besides parching the nation’s crops, it is also allowing pests such as crickets and rats to breed and prey even further on the harvest.
Crop-eating pests like crickets burrow into the ground. Their numbers usually go down in the rainy season because the floods wipe them out, Kandal province Department of Agriculture Director Chin Sokhon said.
“All of those pests spoil the rice stalks,” he said.
Phnom Penh and Kompong Speu, Takeo, Kandal and Prey Veng provinces have been the worst-hit by this year’s drought, officials say. Of the 2 million hectares of arable land in the country, only 50,000 hectares have gotten enough water to cultivate rice and other staples, Disaster Management Vice President Nhim Vanda said at the conference.
Some farmers are already changing their cultivation techniques to combat the drought, Nhim Vanda said. Others are simply sowing the dust and hoping rains will come and soak the paddies, he said.
Although estimates of the total damage to this year’s harvest are not yet available, officials are growing nervous.
“Right now, we can’t say we lack food, but some areas that have been affected by drought are having problems,” Nhim Vanda said.
Experts have attributed the drought to the ongoing problem of El Nino, a naturally occurring warming of the earth’s oceans that has disrupted global weather patterns for the better part of a decade.
Although Phnom Penh has seen rain in the last several days, it hasn’t been enough; in fact, the drought has gotten worse and is likely to continue for the interim, national Director of Meteorology Seth Vannareth said.
“The situation is not going to get better because some areas still don’t have enough rain,” Seth Vannareth said.