Ratanakkiri provincial authorities have appealed to the national government for aid to help villagers whose rice reserves have run out as a result of last year’s rain shortages and unreasonably high interest rates from rice lenders, officials said Tuesday.
Traditionally, villagers in parts of Ratanakkiri borrow quantities of rice from lenders prior to the harvest and then repay their debts once they have been able to reap their own crops.
Provincial Governor Muong Poy said he distributed 50 kg of rice each to nearly 1,000 people in Veun Sai district’s Koh Peak and Kuk Lak communes on Monday. Muong Poy said that he is seeking at least an additional 40 tons of rice to assist those that are currently short of food.
“People across the province are facing a shortage of rice. They are eating wild potatoes,” he said.
Veun Sai Deputy Governor Heang Savoeun said villagers in his district have been facing a rice shortage since February and have been driven to foraging for wild roots to nourish themselves.
“The 50 kg of rice can feed them for 15 days, but I am concerned about the food shortage because we cannot give them enough,” Heang Savoeun said.
Heang Savoeun also said that the businessmen from whom villagers borrow rice before the harvest are taking far too much of their cultivated crop as repayment.
Te Noutong, district police chief, said lenders are providing farmers in Veun Sai with 50 kg of rice and demanding 100 kg in return.
As a result of the high-interest rate on borrowed rice, villagers are losing their rice stocks that would have sustained their families over the course of the year.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, proposed that the government set up a rice bank for people so that they would not have to rely on unscrupulous lenders.
National Committee for Disaster Management First Vice President Nhim Vanda said he is aware of the situation in Ratanakkiri, and that he will travel there to see what more can be done.
“The committee will help the people, but we want the [Cambodian] Red Cross to help them first,” he said.