ponhea leu district, Kandal province – Living in a group of small wooden houses located at the end of an unpaved road on the fringe of Ta Pet village, Kandal province, a group of landless families are struggling to make ends meet in a time of high rice prices.
Heng Hon, 26, and her husband, Hon Mao, 28, say it has become increasingly hard for them to feed their family of seven, since the daily cost of their food started to increase about five months ago.
“It is very difficult to live here because we don’t have land to grow rice. So we have to buy rice for the family. We are seriously affected by the rise in rice prices,” Heng Hon said, adding that her family now spends more than two-thirds of their meager daily income on food.
The cost of rice in Cambodia has soared over the past few months, and prices stabilized only after a government ban on rice exports and state-owned Green Trade’s infusion of cheap rice into the domestic market in March. The government announced a partial lifting of the export ban Monday.
The current price of rice, at about 4,000 riel (approximately $1) per kilogram for first-quality rice, is still the highest in recent memory and a sharp increase from 2,400 riel last year, said Yaing Saing Koma, executive director of the Cambodian Center of Study and Development in Agriculture.
The country’s subsistence farmers are now beginning to run out of rice stock, and in the coming months, many of them will have to purchase rice, which will further increase the demand on the domestic market, Yaing Saing Koma said.
Members of other landless families, who gathered around Heng Hon under her small wooden house on stilts last week, said they too were feeling the pressure of the high rice prices.
“Nobody comes here to ask us if we can support ourselves in our living. The only way out is to make money on our own,” Heng Hon said.
Heng Hon’s family was forced to sell its small parcel of farmland several years ago to pay for medical treatment, first for her husband and later for her children, which sent them into debt, she said.
Now Heng Hon and her mother-in-law pick water lilies from a nearby lake that they sell at the village market, and her husband works as a day laborer. They also collect snails and crabs from the lake and creeks and wild vegetables from the forest to supplement their diet.
“If the cost of rice stays this high, we have to go to Phnom Penh to find a job as construction workers, and I will have to send my children to my parents in Prey Veng” province, Heng Hon said.
There is still a surplus of rice currently in the market, but the government needs to start selling more of its rice reserve soon to prevent a further rise in prices later this year, Yaing Saing Koma said.
Not until December, when the first rice of this year’s crop is harvested, will subsistence farmers, such as Heng Hon and her family, get relief. And it will only be the lucky few subsistence farmers with leftover rice that will benefit from high prices later this year.
More than 60 percent of Cambodia’s 2 million rice farmers are subsistence farmers whose crop goes directly to feeding their family, and only half of this group has enough provisions to last them until the harvest in December, Yaing Saing Koma said.