Earlier-than-expected rains have destroyed hundreds of hectares of dry season rice in Takeo province and have damaged other rice fields now being harvested, according to provincial and agriculture officials.
There is fear that continuing rains will ruin more rice fields and cause financial hardship for families who borrowed money to plant their fields and now may not be able to repay their loans.
“There’s no way to prevent it,” said Kep Chuktema, governor of Takeo. “The destruction by insects we can help, but we cannot stop the rain.
“I will ask for help from the government for those who are having the most difficulty,” he said.
Other provinces, including Kandal and Battambang, have also reported damaged crops, though less than in Takeo, where officials say more than 2,000 hectares of rice may have been destroyed.
“The rain fell earlier than usual,” said Seth Vannareth, director of Meteorology for the Water Resources and Meteorology Ministry. This year’s rainfall began about two weeks earlier than last year, she said.
Most of the rice crops planted in December and January are now ready for harvesting.
But for some farmers, the early rains have drowned their crops, rotting the rice before it could be brought in from the fields.
“It’s the sort of thing that happens occasionally,” said Harry Nesbitt, of the Independent Rice Research Institute, a Cambodian-Australian joint project. When the rice is excessively wet, “it’s not easy to harvest, thresh and dry,” he said. “And if you can’t dry it, it goes moldy.”
The wet-season harvest is often used for subsistence, while the dry-season harvest is sold. Rice which normally sells for 500 to 600 riel per kilogram may sell for only 300 to 400 riel per kilogram if it is damaged, said Nesbitt.
Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state of the Ministry of Agriculture, said there is still not an accurate figure on how many fields have been damaged. “Because it is still raining, it might be more than [2000 hectares],” he said.
Some farmers in Takeo want the government to protect rice fields by building a dam. But doing this, Kep Chuktema said, will flood other fields and the government will be responsible for that damage.
“We cannot satisfy them all,” he said.
While early rains can damage dry season rice crops, it can also help farmers, Nesbitt said.
Land for the wet season crop is normally plowed for the first time in May after the early heavy rainfalls.
Because the plowing is done mostly by animals, the ground must be soft. The early rains allow farmers to plow their fields sooner than usual, Nesbitt said.
“It takes quite a bit of rain,” he said.
Nuth Sakhan, director of agronomy for the Ministry of Agriculture, said 237,000 hectares of dry-season rice are expected to yield a harvest of about 715,000 tons this year.