Gov’t urged to tackle farmers’ water issues

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A farmer tends to his dried up paddy field amid a drought in Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district. Heng Chivoan

Representatives of farmers and civil society organisations (CSOs) have urged the government to further develop rural infrastructure, including more canals and better irrigation systems to retain water for rice crop cultivation, due to water shortages caused by climate change and other factors.

The appeal was made during the 8th National Farmer Forum organised by Oxfam and the NGO Forum on Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Held with the theme The Enhancement of Multi-Stakeholder Engagement to Enable Farmers to Invest in Agriculture, the forum aimed to strengthen collaboration among farmers, CSOs, the private sector, development partners and government agencies.

Participants, including representatives from the government and banking sector, also discussed ways to improve policy implementation to support farmers so that they can have better access to water, capital and markets.

Yan Srey Yat, a farmer representative from Battambang province, said farmers had difficulty cultivating their crops due to drought and lower rainfall in recent years. Compounding the problem, she said, is a poor irrigation system and price manipulation by middlemen.

“We want the government to help farmers by developing more irrigation systems such as canals and reservoirs because we are facing hardship.

“Also, there are middlemen luring farmers into growing jasmine rice, but after we reap the yield, they refuse to buy it. And if they buy it, they offer low prices, so there should be a proper solution to prevent exploitation,” she said.

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The 8th National Farmer Forum organised by Oxfam and the NGO Forum on Cambodia. Heng Chivoan

Muong Sidet, a representative of the French government’s Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD), agreed that water shortages needed to be addressed urgently as it prevented farmers reaping good yields from their rice cultivation.

He called on the government to prioritise irrigation system development.

“I also encourage youths who major in agriculture to practise their agricultural skills using modern farming tools. They have to adapt to new trends in farming by turning from ploughing with cattle to using machinery. It’s agricultural modernisation,” he said.

Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) president Song Saran shared farmers’ concerns on price manipulation by middlemen. He said the federation was doing its part to address the issue by seeking access to international markets for Cambodian rice including China, the US and the EU.

“Now we are studying market prices in China and the EU in a bid to export Cambodian rice there, although we are still a bit worried about its quality.

“We believe that as long as we can export a large amount of rice overseas, farmers will have more work to do and their hard work will pay off in terms of reasonable prices for their yields. Therefore, I urge them to improve rice quality,” he said.

Nigel Hayball, a water resource management specialist at the Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain Programme (CAVAC), said the organisation had contributed to irrigation system development at some prioritised areas in the Kingdom.

He said concerted efforts among all stakeholders were needed to address the issue.

“I have worked with the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology to address water shortages. I call on all relevant stakeholders to help address the issue so that farmers can improve their living standards,” he said.

Men Mlorbbon, the deputy director of farmers’ water community, said the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology is working hard to rebuild irrigation systems in the provinces.

“Our strategy is to build irrigation basins to store water from the rivers, lakes and other water sources. By so doing, farmers can use the stored water for their crops, though sufficient funds are needed to build such basins.

“Despite the difficulties, we are trying our best to address water shortages so that we can at least improve the situation for farmers,” said Mlorbbon.