thmar koul district, Battambang province – A recent outbreak of rice field fires in parched northwestern provinces has resulted in the near-doubling of wages paid to migrant farm laborers, as farmers scramble to bring in their harvests before they too are hit.
Fires blamed on migrant workers’ cooking fires and discarded cigarettes have destroyed hundred of hectares of rice paddy in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces in late December.
Battambang farmers interviewed on Sunday said they fear fires could destroy their crops too and are looking for workers.
“I have been looking for harvesters for two weeks but no one [will work], even if I give them double,” farmer Ean Khon said.
Battambang provincial police Deputy Chief So Sam An said Tuesday that 300 hectares of rice in Thmar Koul and Bavel districts have been destroyed by recent fires. The province is outfitting three fire trucks to extinguish future fires, he said.
The spike in demand for labor has allowed migrant workers to raise their fee for the harvest of one hectare to about $57.50 from about $30 before the rash of fires. Workers in teams of two typically spend about five day to seven days per hectare, farmers said.
“Harvesters’ fees are high, up to double, because every farmer is looking for workers at the same time,” farmer Sok Ry said.
Sok Ry said his profits will be hurt by the price increases, as well as expenditures on irrigation during November’s drought.
“It is a horrible year for farmers,” he said.
Um Mean, secretary-general for the Ministry of Social Affairs, said Tuesday that he had not yet learned of the price increases in Battambang, but added “it is good to have work for our people.”