Rice Experts Upbeat Despite Early Drought

Agriculture experts are predicting a normal year for the wet-season rice harvest, despite a month-long drought that has delayed the planting of more than half the nation’s crop. 

A good rice harvest is essential to easing food shortages stemming from a poor rice harvest last year, experts say.

Most of the provinces are suffering from a dry spell that has prevented the transplanting of rice seedlings, according to Undersecretary of State for Agri­culture Chan Tong Yves.

“We were hit hard early by the lack of rain, and only 40 percent of the crop was planted,” he said Monday. But he said this month’s dryness “has not affected [the crop] too badly.”

Harry Nesbitt, project manager for the Cambodian-Australian International Rice Research Institute project, said Tuesday that in a normal year about 80 percent of the crop should have been planted by now.

He explained that no year has normal weather patterns and said the lack of rainfall will probably not affect long-term harvest prospects.

This year’s rainfall is the lowest since 1979, said Seth Vannareth, deputy director of the department of meteorology. She is tentatively blaming the worldwide weather phenomenon El Nino. “Accord­ing to our studies, there can be no other cause except El Nino,” she said.

She said Kompong Speu had the least rainfall in the country.

Nesbitt downplayed the El Nino theory, and said similar dry patches have occurred in each of the last 10 years.

He cautioned that if rain does not begin to fall by the end of the month, then some of the rice seedlings already planted could be damaged. Both Nesbitt and Seth Vannareth, however, expect the rains to come soon.

Son Soubert, a candidate for the Son Sann Party in Battam­bang, on Sunday appealed to international organizations to help alleviate food shortages for thousands in the northwest.

“There are definitely people who are going hungry,” Nesbitt said, noting that some areas of Cambodia are affected every year by drought.

A World Food Program official on Monday said there are no food emergencies, but said the agency continues to distribute food on a routine basis to needy people in 18 provinces.

Martha Teas, a vulnerability mapping analyst for the WFP, on Monday blamed the food shortage on last year’s meager rainfall and a general recession that hit Cambodia after last July’s factional fighting.

A regional rice shortage from last year’s dry conditions has depleted stocks and driven up food prices, contributing to the riel’s decline.

The WFP will stop “aid operations” in conjunction with the Cambodian Red Cross for one week beginning today due to election-related security concerns, Teas said.

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