Rice fields at risk in Western Cambodia with lack of rainfall

Rice crops in western Cambodia will die from drought if the region does not receive rain within the next month, officials said Thursday, as a development organization urged the government to do more to assist farmers with irrigation.

A delay to the beginning of the rainy season, which typically lasts from the end of May through the first half of October, has devastated provinces that are home to the country’s largest area of rice fields and plantations, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management Nhim Vanda told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“In my experience, if there is no rain in September, the rice in Pursat and Battambang provinces will be destroyed,” he said.

According to Nhim Vanda, several thousand hectares (one hectare = 2.5 acres) of rice fields across Pursat and Battambang—as well as in the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Takeo, Kampot, Kampong Speu and Siem Reap—are at risk of failure if the rains do not come.

The government can only assist certain areas suffering from reduced seasonal rainfall with crop mitigation, he said, but can do little to help in regions where there is no rain.

Chhun Chhorn, governor of central Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province, told RFA that the little rain his region had received was insufficient to sustain farmers’ rice crops.

He said provincial authorities were devising a plan to help pump water into farmers’ fields in order to save their seasonal harvest.

“There is not enough rain—we only receive rain every once in a while,” he said.

But Yang Saing, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), said the government must do more to help farmers prepare for problems such as the current drought—one of the country’s worst in years.

He called on authorities to dig more reservoirs and irrigation systems that would help counteract a lack of rainfall ahead of the rainy season.

“And if the authorities don’t have any plans to dig more reservoirs, they should provide other methods to reserve water at the end of the rainy season,” he said. 

Yang Saing also suggested farmers seek crops that don’t rely on much water to grow.

Ongoing drought

In July, Sivann Botum, secretary of state for Cambodia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs and a member of the National Committee for Disaster Management, told RFA that the severe drought would deepen poverty in the developing country.

At the time, Heng Kim Sreang, the agriculture director of Kampong Chhnang province, told RFA it was beyond her department to help farmers obtain enough water to plant rice. 

Because many fields lie on higher land, they are difficult to get water to, she said, and no other farmers had volunteered to allow their plantations to be used as a reservoir.

The rainy season provides about three-quarters of Cambodia’s annual rainfall, and daily rain is common during its peak between July and September.

Parts of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand also are experiencing a severe lack of rain and higher-than-normal temperatures that have resulted in lower rice production than usual because of the El Niño effect, in which changes in weather patterns can produce droughts and floods in the Mekong region.

Copyright © 1998-2014, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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