After Protest, Farmers’ Unrest Spreads to Neighboring Districts

After about 500 protesting farmers blockaded a national road in Battambang province last week, local authorities in neighboring districts are now making efforts to placate hundreds of other farmers also restless over depressed corn and cassava prices.

In Banteay Meanchey province’s O’Chrou district, district governor San Sien Ho said yesterday that he had been pre-empting possible protest by visiting local families and asking for patience, though he admitted there was little authorities could do.

“It depends on Thai dealers. We don’t have the budget to help them. We only have an infrastructure budget,” Mr. Sien Ho said.

He said he had told farming families that he would try to help in negotiations with dealers.

In O’Beichoan commune alone, more than 400 families were struggling from the falling prices, the district governor said.

“We are dying now,” said Muth Sreyroth, a farmer in the commune. She has been growing cassava on her family’s 30 hectares for more than four years.

Now, amid falling crop prices, her family is struggling to pay off debt, she said.

The going rate for raw cassava had halved in the past year, the 40-year-old said, adding that it was impossible to dry cassava during the wet season, which would help earn a premium.

On Thursday, corn farmers in Battambang’s Kamrieng district blocked National Road 57B for more than eight hours and called on the government to find a solution to their plight. The following day, farmers and local officials met for six hours, and tycoon Phou Puy offered to buy their corn and dry it himself. Farmers, however, said the offered price of 3.4 baht, or about $0.10, per kilogram wasn’t enough.

Un Sreyoun, a 40-year-old corn farmer, said she felt the protest and discussion had amounted to nothing.

“It is the same price. [But] I decided to sell it anyway because I have to pay off debt,” she said.

In neighboring Phnom Prek district, about 200 farmers had gathered on Saturday at the district office to plead their case, said Song Sopheak, the district police chief.

But he said the farmers had gone home after being told that prices were always fluctuating.

“They just need to keep calm and understand the market,” he said.

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