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Battambang farmers struggle amid drought

Khy Sovuthy / Khmer Times Share:
Farmer Sous Bopha may abandon her farming for a job in Thailand. KT/Mai Vireak

Kors Kralor district, Battambang province – Thousands of hectares of rice fields in 12 districts here have been sucked dry as drought continues to afflict farmers, with those living in Kors Kralor district hit the hardest.

Battambang is among 13 provinces hit by drought this year and farmers in multiple districts are in need of aid, with many citing unpaid debts.

Sok Soeub, a farmer in Kors Kralor district, yesterday said she had five hectares of rice paddies before the drought that began a few months ago.

“I don’t harvest any more because my fields were destroyed by the drought,” Ms Soeub said. “This year, I lost about $1,000 – money I borrowed from rich people. I do not know whether I can recover because I am old and I do not have any other job.”

The 63-year-old said farmers in the area can only harvest once per year due to a lack of water irrigation.

“Until now, our farming depends on rain because we do not have a canal to help support irrigation,” Ms Soeub said, noting that her last resort would be to send her children to work in Thailand in order to pay rent and make ends-meet.

“We farm when we can because we do not have any other business,” she said. “We borrowed money, so I will ask my children to find work in Thailand.”

Top Sin, another villager in the district, yesterday said one hectare yields about 200 kilograms of rice during the drought and he is losing money.

“I only get about 200 kilograms per hectare now because we do not have the water we need,” Mr Sin said.

He noted that people in the area have suffered since September due to a lack of rain and irrigation systems needed for rice cultivation.

“My rice paddies were destroyed because we did not have enough water for farming,” Mr Sin said, adding that he had borrowed $50,000 from a bank to get his farm running.

He said villagers living in the area had requested provincial authorities to construct a canal, prompting the authorities to survey the area, but no construction has been done so far.

“We asked provincial authorities and the government to help dig a system for our villagers in this area because we can’t farm without a canal,” Mr Sin said. “If I cannot farm for the money I owe, then I will have to resort to finding work in order to pay off my loan.”

Provincial Governor Nguon Ratanak yesterday said authorities are working on the issue of finding a dependable water source for affected farmers.

“We are solving the issue; we are looking for a water source and preparing a budget for farmers,” Mr Ratanak said, noting that Banteay Meanchey and Pailin provinces are also facing water shortages.

A field in Kors Kralor district. KT/Mai Vireak

“In Battambang province, Banan and Kors Kralor districts are facing a lack of water for farming,” he said. “Five among six communes in Kors Kralor district are suffering from this tragedy.”

“We are concerned about this dry season,” he added. “We will bring water and distribute it to people in Kors Kralor district.”

Prom Voek, an official with the provincial agricultural department, said thousands of hectares have been destroyed in 12 districts. Mr Voek noted that Kors Kralor district has been hit the hardest.

“About 27,340 hectares of rice paddies in the province have been destroyed since October,” he said. “The hardest hit paddies are located in Kors Kralor district.”

“The drought affected 13,434 hectares of rice paddies in the district alone – 12,358 hectares were destroyed by drought,” he noted. “We can estimate that farmers lost $500 per hectare destroyed.”

Mr Voek said provincial officials surveyed the sites in order to find a solution for the farmers, but noted that the closest source of water is located in Pursat province.

“We have been looking for a water source to help them, but the source of water is very far from the areas affected,” he said. “We are also looking for alternative crops for the farmers so that if the areas are still affected by drought, they can grow vegetables.”

Chhim Vichara, director of the provincial agriculture department, yesterday said a lack of rain is attributed to the drought, an issue discussed during a provincial meeting last week with the Water Resources Ministry.

Mr Vichara said the meeting reviewed the situation in Kors Krolor and Rukha Kiri districts. He said authorities are attempting to use a system that can pump water from the water source in Pursat province.

“We will set up a hydraulic system for them,” Mr Vichara said. “Some rice could take three months to harvest, while others take six months.”

“If people continue to not have water, we will bring the water to them,” he added.

Suos Bopha, a villager in Kors Kralor district’s Dounba commune, yesterday said she is considering going to Thailand in order to make up for the losses of her three hectares of rice paddies.

“We cannot farm if the situation continues, I think many of our villagers will have to go to Thailand in order to make ends-meet,” Ms Bopha said. “If the government does not help us, we will not have any rice to even eat.”

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