Battambang province is a microcosm of the weather problems plaguing Cambodia. While floods in four districts may have damaged as many as 20,000 hectares of land, thousands of additional hectares may have been ruined by drought.
As a result, a province that prides itself on being Cambodia’s rice bowl will barely feed itself this year and will have little to export, according to third deputy governor Prak Doeun.
“We hope that our farmers will make up for the loss, at least enough to support our families,” he said. “Despite the disaster, the province will probably feed itself.”
Phauk Sam En, second deputy governor of Kompong Speu province, estimates 2,000 hectares in six districts have been damaged or ruined by drought. There’s not enough water to make irrigation systems effective, and rice seedlings are growing too slowly or simply drying up in the fields.
At Chungrok village in Kong Pisey district, about 45 km southwest of Phnom Penh, farmers can only hope this week’s rain isn’t too little, too late.
Khuon Ey, a 67-year-old who farms a half hectare of rice field, said her rice could die within a few days. She may have to depend on whatever money her daughter makes as a construction worker in Phnom Penh.
“I am very desperate, because the sky does not tolerate poor farmers,” Khuon Ey said.
Takeo Governor Kep Chuk Tema estimates that 280 hectares of rice have been ruined as the drought enters its third month in portions of his province. Authorities have allocated 6,000 hectares of land and 200 tons of rice seed to be planted during the upcoming dry rice season to make up some of the loss.
Ham Veng, a 26-year-old farmer in Phnom Toch village, Bati district, said his family is not going to be able to make ends meet.
“We rely on the sky,” he said, looking down at his withering rice plants. “So it is very difficult.”