Global Warming Worries Beleaguered Rice Farmers

Rice farmers from a number of Cambodia’s provinces expressed concern at a regional conference in Phnom Penh yesterday that climate change had fueled this year’s drought and would continue to have negative effects on future harvests.

The Southeast Asian Farmers conference brought together local agriculture workers and experts with representatives from throughout South and Southeast Asia, many of whom said their growing seasons had been profoundly affected by shifts in the weather.

Several Cambodian farmers said they hoped the government would intervene by investing in irrigation projects.

“I want the government to dig trenches for water because we can’t rely solely on the rain,” said Sun Kheng, a farmer from Kompong Speu province.

According to Ms Kheng, there has been a marked decline in rainfall in Kompong Speu and the storms that formed during the rainy season tended to be too small, or too localized, to provide much relief.

Water Resources Ministry Secretary of State Phang Sareth said yesterday that the government had a plan to build new irrigation systems, but lacked funding.

“Of course, we have had a master plan for 5 years and 10 years to build irrigation systems,” he said. “We are trying very hard, but the main problem is that our state’s budget is at a limited level.”

Mr Sareth said that his ministry would work to promote the use of agricultural products that could lessen the effects of the decline in water resources.

In the Asian Development Bank’s Water Operational Framework 2011-2020 document, a draft of which was released yesterday, the organization predicted that water supplies in Asia could decline sharply over the next few decades.

“Water shortages are expected to aggregate 40 percent in developing Asia by 2030,” the report stated.

Cambodia was cited in the draft document as one of a group of countries already experiencing profound water stress that has impacted “the region’s food and energy production, its ecological needs, and on the health and livelihoods of its populations.”

V R Haridas, an agriculture consultant for Caritas India who attended yesterday’s conference, said that changing planting methods could help Cambodian farmers, but that policymakers and farming specialists should be careful not to overreact to changes in the harvest season.

“We help people plan to continue to farm in a traditional way, while adding only a few [new techniques] that can increase production,” said Mr Haridas, who pointed out that many of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in India spread diseases and left formerly productive soil barren.

Tao Seng Hour, Vice Chairman of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, said he was also concerned efforts to minimize the impacts of climate change would wind up being more harmful than weather changes.

“There has to be an awareness that agricultural activities also hurt the environment, leaching chemicals from fertilizers into the ground and promoting deforestation,” Mr Hour said.

(Additional Reporting by Andrew Burmon)


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