Cambodia Needs Considerable Investments in Irrigation

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PHNOM PENH: March 13, 2014 (Khmer Times) – Considerable investment is currently taking place in the expansion and rehabilitation of irrigation schemes in Cambodia to mitigate effects of drought.
 
Drought is not adequately monitored in Cambodia but has devastating effects for a country, which relies heavily on agriculture. Attempts have subsequently been made to develop design guidelines and standards appropriate to Cambodian conditions but none have come into regular use or have been formally adopted, as yet or are in progress, especially massive irrigation projects funded by donors. In many low-lying areas surrounding Tonle Sap and Mekong River, irrigation systems are established on land only slightly higher than the source of irrigation water that is prone to regular flooding.
 
In these areas, irrigation systems are vulnerable to the effects of prolonged soil inundation, resulting in slumping of canal embankments. There is no scope to drain the system until flood-waters recede. Further from the Tonle Sap where elevations are slightly higher and terrain less flat, provision for drainage can be provided in irrigation systems.
 
There are four characteristics of agricultural drought in Cambodia: (i) unpredictable delays in rainfall onset in the early wet season, (ii) erratic variations in wet season rainfall onset, amount, and duration across different local areas, (iii) early ending of rains during the wet season, and (iv) common occurrence of mini-droughts of three weeks or more during the wet season which can damage or destroy rice crops without irrigation.
This is compounded by farmers‟ adoption of high quality seeds is, however, constrained on account of limited affordability (quality seeds are available at premium prices), limited resilience to respond to losses resulting from natural events, and uncertainty of compensation when loss does occur.
 
An International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has identified Cambodia  as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, given the predicted changes in temperature and precipitation, the share of labor in agriculture, and the country’s low adaptive capacity due to widespread poverty.
 
Meanwhile,  the FAO warned governments in the Asia-Pacific region Monday to take “major, fundamental decisions” about ways to boost food production and address undernourishment.
 
“The region as a whole needs to improve food production systems and delivery to consumers or face significant food security problems within the next generation,” a statement said.
 
“Farming, fishing and forestry practices need to be modernized and made more profitable, while countries in the region must take serious, coordinated steps to reduce food losses and food waste, which is as high as 30-50 percent regarding grains, fruits and vegetables.”
 
The warnings came in a report to the 32nd FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific currently being held in the Mongolian capital.
 
In a response to a request by member countries, the FAO said it had already produced a Regional Rice Strategy which is now being finalized. It also launched a regional campaign last year to promote public awareness of the need to minimize food losses and food waste.
 
Cambodia needs to spend millions to ensure sufficient irrigation systems are in place for agriculture and flood mitigation and especially to provoke and convince rice farmers to breakaway from the norm of growing seasonal rice.
 
They need to emulate their neighbors and grow two or even three crops per season in order to attain the country’s goal of becoming a regional exporter of quality rice.

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