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Farmers Face Shortage of Irrigation for Improved Rice Production

Cambodian farmers cut rice at a rice paddy farm during the harvest season at Sala Kumrou, Puresat province.

The low income made by many farmers in Battambang has forced young men to seek work as migrant labor in Thailand.

BATTAMBANG - As Cambodia seeks to improve its production of rice, farmers in the fertile province of Battambang say they need more irrigation, more training and more equipment to boost their yields.

“I’ve never seen any local authorities or NGOs visit my rice field or teach me about farming techniques, not even once,” said Hun Pes, 84, as he pumped water into his rice field. “I just get information from other villagers or hear it on the radio.”

Hun Pes said he can cultivate rice up to three times a year, for up to 7 metric tons of rice per hectare. Like other villagers, he then sells his rice harvest to middlemen from Vietnam or Thailand, who buy directly from farmers in their fields. He sells his rice for about $330 per ton. “They normally offer the same price as local buyers,” he said.

The low income made by many farmers in Battambang has forced young men to seek work as migrant labor in Thailand. Farmers here say they need more information on how to better farm, and they need more irrigation.

“I’ve also heard news about the government’s ambitions to export rice of a certain quality, but to do so, there must be enough irrigation systems,” said Pel Vinh, a 41-year-old farmer. “On the contrary, in my rice field, there’s a very limited water supply. So how can I increase rice productivity as planned by the government?”

Cambodia is trying to reach 1 million tons in rice exports by 2015. The national government’s plan is to expand the overall cultivation area in the country and increase investment in irrigation. It committed $189 million to the effort in 2010, up from $101 million in 2009.

Most farmers are only able to produce around 2 tons or 3 tons of rice per hectare. And many have no access to the machinery that would boost their yields.

“Most Cambodian farmers, they don’t use agricultural machinery, so their productivity is not stable and slow, very slow,” Imahashi Takayuki, executive director of Japamax, a company that imports farm equipment, said. “But if they use machinery, they can reduce the number of laborers and increase their income.”

Hean Vanhan, deputy director general for the Ministry of Agriculture’s general directorate, said the government is trying to make machinery more affordable to farmers by lowering tariffs on imported equipment.