Some 9.5 million Cambodians who directly engage in agriculture must adopt new techniques in order to counter dynamic weather patterns caused by climate change, and the government must work with farmers to ensure that it happens, an agricultural conference was told last week.
Flown in from India to speak at the National Farmers’ Forum in Phnom Penh on Friday, V.R. Haridas, an environmental science expert for Caritas India, urged the government to work with the agriculture sector, which provides at least one-third of Cambodia’s gross domestic product, to ensure the nation’s food security.
“The future of farmers across Asia is at stake due to the increasingly unpredictable nature of rainfall due to climate change,” Mr. Haridas said.
“These farmers in their traditional methods were once dependent only on themselves for yields, but now require updates on how to work their land to the best advantage of themselves and the nation’s food stocks,” he said.
Mr. Haridas said that while flooding was an unavoidable, annual occurrence, it was something that farmers could be better prepared for.
“There is the potential to build —cheaply—thousands of small ponds and small-scale irrigation canals that would help alleviate floods and also preserve water for the times of year when there is none,” he said. “It has been done in India and it can be done here.”
Chea Meng, deputy administrative director at the budget department within the Ministry of Finance, said Friday that funds for the Agriculture Ministry would increase from just $20.2 million of the country’s $3 billion-plus budget in 2013 to $23.5 million in 2014.
Though the amount of government funds dedicated to agriculture is paltry, there is a willingness to do more.
“The budget has been increased because we want to pay more attention to the Ministry of Agriculture and we know the Ministry of Water Resources wants to build many irrigation [canals],” Mr. Meng said.
Say Sam Al, the new environment minister, also said he supported spending more of the national budget on irrigation.
“If we only implement one policy, it should be the building of small-scale irrigation, especially in Kompong Speu,” he said. “If we can build roads, then we can build canals.”
A U.N. report released in 2011 forecast that Cambodia—of the six countries in the Mekong Basin—would “feel the effects of climate change most severely,” with the hot, dry season to become longer and dryer, and the wet season to become shorter while total precipitation rises.
Farmers in Kompong Speu province, where rice crops are regularly hit by drought and floods, said that a small-scale irrigation system would provide great relief.
“We lose thousands of hectares of rice crop every year, either by drought or flood, and much of it could be avoided,” said Long Doeun, a Kompong Speu farmer and representative of rural development NGO Ponleu Ney Kdey Sangkhum.
“We have proposed a small-scale irrigation system [to provincial authorities] many times but they always tell us to wait because they don’t have the money.”
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