Farmers Fear Loss of Rice Harvests as Flooding Deaths Rise to 21

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A farmer in Battambang province walks through a flooded rice field in a photo posted to the Agriculture Ministry’s Facebook page on October 15, 2020.
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Heavy rain warnings remain in place after more than a week of flooding, leaving rice farmers increasingly anxious about their harvests — the longer their fields are flooded, the more likely their crops will be lost.

As of Friday, the National Committee for Disaster Management reported more than 200,000 hectares of flooded farmland. Though 44 percent of non-rice crops are thought to be damaged, so far only 5 percent of the flooded rice is considered lost.

Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon told VOD that current levels of damage to the rice harvest were manageable — the government plans for up to 10 percent loss from drought and harvest every year — but it was a matter of how quickly the flooding receded.

“If it remains soaked in the water, it could cause more damage,” Sakhon said, noting that forecasts anticipated more rain.

Yoerm So, 55, has yet to reap a single stalk of rice from his 100 hectares in Battambang province’s Thmarkol district.

The rice had been almost ready to harvest when the flooding hit, he said. “I haven’t reaped even one cut,” So said.

He could see that 60 hectares were already damaged, and the remaining 40 hectares were underwater since October 7.

He had grown dry-season rice this year, meaning it was more vulnerable to flooding. There was nothing he could do but hope the water would go away, he said.

Ann Vy, 48, a rice farmer in the same district’s Tapoung commune, said he had rushed to harvest unripe rice before the flooding.

He managed to save about 250 bags of rice — roughly 20 tons — from 20 hectares, about a quarter of his expected harvest.

“I was forced to harvest,” Vy said. “If I waited till it was ripe, it would have all been flooded.”

He had borrowed $20,000 earlier this year to extend his rice field, he added. “We failed to meet our expectations because first, the drought, and now the flood,” Vy said.

Theng Savoeun, director of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, said the costs for farmers of drought and flooding had been increasing over the past five years.

“Climate change has had a heavy impact on their livelihoods,” Savoeun said. “They were suffering from Covid-19 already, and now they are suffering because of flooding also.”

According to the national disaster committee, 137,160 hectares of rice have flooded with 7,231 hectares destroyed. For other crops, 67,490 hectares have flooded and 29,947 hectares lost, it said.

The committee added that 212,676 people had been affected by the flooding. It announced one death in Kampong Thom, four in Kandal, one in Pailin, two in Preah Sihanouk and three in Pursat. Though the committee listed seven deaths for Banteay Meanchey, Chun Buntha, an official at the provincial secretariat of disaster management, said the province had seen 10 deaths, making a total of 21 deaths countrywide.

The Water Resources Ministry on Monday issued weather warnings across the country over the next three days, forecasting “heavy rain associated with gusty wind.”

Additional reporting by Khut Sokun

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