Planthoppers Spreading Into Kandal; Farmers Seek Help

Rice farmers this week continued their battle against a plant­hopper infestation, as the rice predators spread into Kandal province, agronomy officials said Tuesday.

Kandal’s Ang Snuol district is the latest to fall victim to the brown-winged insects in what has become the country’s worst outbreak of the bug since 1995, ac­cording to Hean Vanhan, de­puty director for plant protection in the Ministry of Agriculture’s agronomy department.

Svay Rieng province is also suffering a “serious” infestation, said Hean Vanhan, but the number of affected hectares was unavailable.

Takeo continues to be the worst hit province, with more than 1,200 hectares of rice paddies affected, he said. The government is focusing on Takeo be­cause, unlike other affected areas, there are no NGOs helping to combat the insects. So far, 105 hectares of rice paddies have been sprayed with pesticides.

But Hean Vanhan said the outbreak has not worsened.

While the government and NGOs continue spraying to try to contain the outbreak, agronomists this week visited a Kampot province village where trial varieties of rice plants seem to have been relatively unaffected by the insects.

The experimental seed plots are part of the German NGO GTZ’s Integrated Food Security Program in Kampot’s Sre Cheng village in Chum Kiri district. Officials and farmers there said Monday that planthoppers hit the village’s rice paddies about two weeks ago, but the high yield varieties were unscathed.

But Gary Jahn, a crop protection specialist at the Cambodia-Australia Inter­national Rice Re­search Institute, was skeptical the rice seedlings were naturally resilient to the pests. He said the planthoppers might have been destroyed by natural predators.

Planthoppers first appeared in Cambodia at the beginning of July, and are believed to have blown in from Vietnam.

The insects feed on rice and grasses, sucking the sap out of the plant. They have a life span of 15 days before reproducing and dying two weeks later. They appearance annually in Cambo­dia, but this year the insect came in such large numbers it has overwhelmed its natural predators.

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