Despite thousands of expectant onlookers and a delectably refined presentation, the royal oxen showed little interest in any of the seven traditional dishes presented to them at Saturday’s annual plowing ceremony—save a little corn, officials said.
A crowd of thousands assembled Saturday morning in Veal Mean Park in front of the National Museum to watch six oxen plow a ceremonial furrow, hailing the coming of the rainy season and the conventional start to the year’s crop sowing.
“The royal oxen only ate a little corn. Then they walked away from the other grains, water and wine,” royal astrologer Kang Ken said, adding that this is not a good omen. “I am not happy that the royal oxen did not eat anything much…. [This] does not bode well for this year’s agricultural production,” he said.
King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the ceremony, while Prince Norodom Singha Rath led the royal plow and yoke and his wife Lor Kheng sprinkled seeds in the earthen depressions left in their wake.
After being escorted around the park, the oxen were presented with the usual spread of rice, corn, water, wine, sesame, beans and grass-each in a separate bowl atop a golden platter.
Despite the oxen’s lack of appetite, Cambodia’s farming population should not be disheartened, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said.
“According to the meteorological forecast, we will get good rain this year all over the country from May to November,” he said.
There may be a dry spell between July and August, but overall the agricultural forecast will be much rosier than the plowing ceremony portends, Chan Sarun added.
During November’s Water Festival, Buddhist monks at the Royal Palace also predicted from wax drippings that there would be substantial rain in 2007, Chan Sarun said.
But last month, soothsayers in the capital offered a different assessment at Khmer New Year, when they anticipated pestilence and natural disaster for the year’s crops.
Chan Sarun said farmers should look to themselves, not the shifting tides of astrology, to determine the fate of their crops.
The average Cambodian farmer yields about two tons of rice per hectare, which is much lower than other countries in the region, said Winfried Scheewe, marketing adviser at the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.
Recently though, some farmers have nearly doubled their rice yield by adopting more modern methods of farming, such as spacing their plants further apart and keeping their paddies wet but not flooded, he added.
“We have to encourage farmers to do their own work,” Chan Sarun said. “It is up to them to decide their fate, not any prediction.”