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Ceremony Predicts Good Corn, Bean Harvest

Royal oxen have predicted the crops for corn and bean will be good in Cambodia this year, following an ancient ceremony to mark the beginning of the rainy season.

In the Royal Plowing Ceremony, the oxen pull a blade through the soil of an ancient rice field, outside the Royal Palace, before offerings of beans, corn, grass, rice, water and wine are placed before them.

This year, the oxen nibbled at beans and corn, forsaking rice. That will mean good crops of the first two, but a poor rice crop, perhaps only 30 percent of the typical yield, according to Kang Ken, chief royal astrologer.

“The royal oxen did not eat rice at all,” he said.

The annual ceremony was overseen by King Norodom Sihamoni and attended by Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly Heng Samrin, lawmakers, diplomats and thousands of onlookers.

Rice farmer Sim Ang, 51, from Kandal province, said he wasn’t completely convinced of the prediction.

“We must work hard for our rice farming to support our living, and we must not be hopeless for the negative prediction of the poor harvest,” he said after the ceremony.

Nop Sophal, a farmer from Kampont province, said she wasn’t convinced either.

“The ceremony is only an ancient prediction,” she said. “But now, nature and the weather are changing very often.”

Besides, she said, the oxen didn’t predict a good rice crop last year, “but I still had rice to eat.”

Still, the prediction was cause for worry for some, like 39-year-old Phnom Penh resident Ly Vanda.

“If the oxen don’t eat rice, we will face a rice shortage,” she said. “We are very worried for the poor harvest affecting the livelihood of farmers and Phnom Penh residents, while Cambodia is suffering under the global economic crisis.”

If the oxen aren’t hungry for rice, the export market is. Cambodia’s rice production increased to 7.2 million tons in 2008, up half a million tons from the year before, and the Ministry of Agriculture says the country could export 8 million tons per year by 2015.