Pressured by the growing demand for agricultural land in Kompong Thom province, local authorities want to reclaim 30,000 to 40,000 hectares of swamp from the mighty Tonle Sap lake and turn it into rice paddy, officials said last week.
The massive swamp of grass and weeds, located mainly in the province’s Stong district, floods in the wet season but dries in the hot season, said provincial Governor Nam Tum.
If the area was not subject to the vagaries of nature it could be used for intensive farming, Nam Tum said.
“[We are] looking for ways to transform the swamp for agricultural productivity,” he said. “But I need to consult with other officials to study the balance between the environment and development.”
In the 1960s, farmers worked the swamp to produce rice but the area has been left virtually untouched since the 1970s. Nowadays just 4,000 hectares are planted with rice paddy during the dry season, Nam Tum added.
Swampland is an important feature of the great lake’s ecology and plans to transform the area must be studied thoroughly for their impact on the environment, said Noeu Bonher, coordinator of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve Project.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun also warned of the potential impact on fish breeding if the swamp is lost, adding that locals should farm the existing swampland with special varieties of rice rather than try to transform it with reservoirs.
But Touch Seang Tana, a fisheries expert at the Council of Minister’s Social, Economic and Cultural Observation Unit, said the swamp was ecologically impoverished and the creation of reservoirs to irrigate the drained swamp in the dry season would make it agriculturally viable and ecologically richer.
“When we have water, we will have everything else that helps improve ecology,” he said.