kong pisei district, Kompong Speu province – Curious villagers gathered around Chea Leng and her 5-year-old son, as she talked about the effects drought and rising food prices are having on her family’s livelihood.
“This year I can’t plant rice because of the drought, so I have to buy rice throughout the whole year,” the 30-year-old mother of three said.
Her family will not be harvesting any rice from their 0.2 hectares of land this year, she said, because all of her seedlings had dried out and the family had lost 30 kg of rice seed.
“Everybody here suffers from the drought; no one plants rice,” she continued, referring to the dozen or so poor families living in wooden, thatch-roofed houses on the fringe of Boeung village in Chong Rok commune.
The recent failure of the family’s rice harvest comes on top of the financial pressures of the medical treatment of their youngest son and the rising cost of rice, Chea Leng said. She and her husband Hun Heng, 32, must supplement their income from farming with other jobs.
Hun Heng has been working as a construction worker in Phnom Penh for more than a year, earning about $12.50 per week and returning home only once a month to bring his hard-earned wages with him. In addition to her farm work, Chea Leng weaves thatch-roofs, taking home about a dollar per day.
Their 5-year-old son Prosh has been suffering from asthma since birth, creating a major financial challenge for the family.
Prosh regularly experiences breathing problems, and Chea Leng takes him to Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh two to three times a month, where he receives medical checkups and medicine.
The cost of transport and overnight stays in the capital amount to nearly $50 per month, the majority of the family’s cash income, she said.
The price of rice, which has more than doubled since last year to 1,300 riel per kg, according to Chea Leng, is yet another hardship for her family.
“Because of the rising price of rice, I have to spend all my daily income on food,” she said.
Chea Leng is deeply concerned about the future. “I have no idea what to do next year; I already spent all our money on food.”
Soon, she said, “I will be living in hard conditions.”
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