thkov commune, Prey Veng province – Tbeng village is being hit hard in the aftermath of last year’s drought, local families say, as their diminished rice stocks are depleted and jobs in Phnom Penh are scarce this year.
In September, the Agriculture Ministry reported rice planting in some areas of Prey Veng and other provinces lagged badly behind compared to other years due to local droughts. And in early March the Ministry of Commerce announced that 51,000 jobs had been lost in the garment industry since September due to plummeting export. Many of those newly unemployed workers were expected to return to their farming communities in the provinces.
“This year is the worst year because we had a bad harvest, and we can’t go anywhere to find work,” Mao Yean, a 45-year-old widow with two children, said at her home last week. Along with this year’s poor rice harvest—225 kg of rice compared to her farm’s average yield of 300 kg—Mao Yean’s family was handed another blow when her 23-year-old daughter, Soem Yom, was laid off from her job at a Phnom Penh garment factory in January.
“Most of my friends lost their jobs,” Soem Yom said.
A group of around 10 villagers, who gathered around Mao Yean and her mother as they were talking to reporters, said it was the third year in a row the area was hit by drought and now as many a 100 young woman have returned to the village after they lost their jobs as garment factory workers.
Mom Ratha, first commune councilor of Thkov commune, said last week that 10 to 20 families in each of the seven villages in his commune had run out of their rice provisions due to drought and damage caused to the crop by insects. He added that a quarter of the approximately 1,400 families in his commune deplete their rice stocks at the end of the year and go to work at construction sites in Phnom Penh to earn money when they are short of food.
Kompong Trabek deputy district governor Chan Ran denied there was a widespread rice shortage in Thkov commune, but conceded that “some villagers may be out of rice because of the drought,” Chan Ran said.
“I asked the local authorities to list names of villagers who face a rice shortage,” Chan Ran added.
Chhuon Thay, 30, a farmer in Thom village, Thkov commune, said her harvest had dropped from 1 ton to 750 kg because of drought and insects, adding her family would run out of rice in a month. “Now many people have to buy rice because of the drought,” she said.
Seth Vannareth, newly appointed director of the Ministry of Water Resources department of meteorology, referred questions to the former director, Long Saravuth.
According to Long Saravuth, Kompong Trabek is only one of many communities that were affected by drought last year.
However, he added that the rainy season in 2008 had been a reasonably good one except for localized droughts in areas of Battambang, Kompong Speu, Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Takeo provinces.