Many May Go Hungry if Drought Continues

At least 1,000 families in Kom­pong Thom province could go hungry in coming months, as about 4,000 hectares of rice pad­dy face severe damage due to lack of rain, a provincial agriculture official said Wednesday.

Em Phean, Kompong Thom’s director of agriculture, will meet with officials from around the country today at the Ministry of Agriculture in Phnom Penh to report on his drought-stricken province’s threatened rice yield.

“No farmers have died, but Kompong Thom is facing a food shortage in a few months. About 1,000 to 2,000 families will begin starving,” he said.

Em Phean complained that the soil in many of the province’s rain-fed rice paddies is parched after seven weeks without rain. “Since Oct 5, no rain ever falls.”

He said that Stung and Prasat Balang districts have been hardest hit by the drought. Farmers there have had 1,200 hectares of rice damaged.

Kompong Thom rice farmers planted a total of 123,000 hectares for the rainy season crop, 76 percent of the province’s available areas.

Kompong Cham province’s ag­ri­culture director, Kong Chhoeun, also predicted hard times in the country’s most populous province. He said Kompong Cham’s rice yield likely will be 10,000 tons short of what farmers anticipated. In recent years, heavy rainfalls late in the wet season have saved threatened crops. The rice crop received enough rain be­tween October to December to ripen, he said.

If the rains do come this season, Kong Chhoeun said, Kom­pong Cham could produce as much as 2.1 tons per hectare. But as long as skies remain clear, farmers are expecting the diminished yield of 1.9 tons per hectare.

Kompong Cham farmers planted rice on 158,000 hectares of the 170,000 hectares available this season.

Nationwide, farmers planted rainy season crops on more than 2.2 million hectares this year, according to agriculture and disaster management officials.

“The rice planting has shown to be successful, but we will review the real situation” at the meeting, said Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agri­culture.

In 2002, crop-destroying droughts and floods drove villagers in remote areas of Kom­pong Thom to regularly eat cassava and potatoes, traditionally considered the food of only the most destitute.


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