Pen Porn planted rice in his 3-hectare paddy in Kompong Thom province’s Baray district three months ago and by now the crop should be half-grown.
But instead, it is almost completely gone, having been devoured by swarms of khnhong—cricket-like insects that have plagued the fields since the beginning of June.
“The khnhong infested all over our rice field and…devoured the root of the plant. We don’t know how we will get rice to feed my family,” the 47-year-old father of seven said by telephone Tuesday.
Insects and rodents pose a threat to farmers’ crops in Cambodia, particularly during droughts when crops dry and become more attractive to pests, according to Ministry of Agriculture officials.
In Kompong Thom, 126 hectares of rice paddy have been damaged by pests including the khnhong, according to Noch Mangdy, provincial agronomy director.
About 50 hectares of paddy in Stung Treng province have recently been damaged by khnhong, while about 300 hectares in Battambang province’s Mong Russei district have been damaged by disease, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said Tuesday.
“In general, this drought-driven pest infestation is not our worry. It has minimal effect and we can control the situation,” he said, adding that recent rainfall has improved the situation.
To date, about 30 percent of the country’s wet season rice has fully grown due to recent rainfall, he said.
He added that in Kompong Speu province’s western mountain range, the government is worried about the possibility of flash floods due to heavy downpours. Chan Sarun also said he had seen paddies infested with rats in several provinces, including Takeo.
Rodent crop damage in Cambodia “has reached a critical level,” the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute said in a Monday statement.
“Without urgent attention, food security in Cambodia is at jeopardy,” CARDI said.
At least 45 percent of rice grown is destroyed by rats in lowland areas during the wet season, according to the estimates of Chan Phaloen, CARDI deputy director.
A 2004 report found that Cambodian farmers are losing $60 per hectare per crop, CARDI added.
CARDI is working with farmers in Kompong Cham to try and combat the problem of crop damage caused by rodents.
To protect crops in Kompong Thom from the khnhong, agronomy officials have instructed farmers to use plastic sheets to catch the insects, Noch Mangdy said.
He added that crickets also pose a potential threat to the crops, but fortunately they feed in the forests rather than in rice paddies.
Agricultural experts have said farmers often use pesticides to combat pests, which are making them sick, when a better alternative would be for farmers to make a communal effort to catch pests or ward them off.
In March, the Ministry of Agriculture and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization announced they planned to ban more types of pesticide as they damage agriculture, cause health risks to humans and pollute the environment.
“Pesticides are double blade weapons,” Chan Sarun said at the time. “If used properly, they will help protect crops…but used improperly they can create adverse side effects on human, animal health…and be a barrier to the export of agriculture products.”
A 2004 report from the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture estimates that farmers spent $20 million on pesticides last year.
Pen Porn said he has spent more than $10 on insecticide to keep the khnhong at bay.
“I bought insecticide to kill but there were too many insects out in the field so we could not kill all,” he said. “The rice plants are gone.”