Irrigation advances fuel Cambodian rice dream

Tue Oct 7, 2008 8:17pm EDT
 
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By Ek Madra

TRAMKOK, Cambodia (Reuters) - Sok Sarin flashes a toothless grin as he looks at his newly built house and remembers how the other farmers laughed when he pioneered new rice-growing techniques in his district in southern Cambodia.

Better irrigation, training in how to select seeds and cheap fertilizer made from wild plants and animal or bat droppings have more than doubled the yield from his rice fields to 3.4 tons per hectare from 1.5 tons.

"No one believed that this idea would work. Now they follow me and they have good harvests," said Sarin, 60.

Cambodia's economy was devastated by civil war from the 1970s to the late 1990s, including four years under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, whose dream of transforming the country into a great rice power ended in the nightmare of the "Killing Fields."

Now another agrarian revolution is under way as the government seeks to boost rice exports and cut poverty among its 14 million people, 85 percent of whom are farmers or members of farming families.

Thanks in large part to vastly improved irrigation, Sarin can get two crops a year from his fields, earning him an income of $1,500. Per capita income in Cambodia is around $500.

Sarin's neighbor, Long Yos, 50, said Cambodian farmers were also following methods honed in China, India and the Philippines to breed fish that eat the insects that destroy rice plants.

"The fish eat the insects; we eat the fish when they get bigger," said Yos.   Continued...

 
<p>Farmers plant rice seedlings in a paddy field in Kampong Chhnang province, 91 km northwest of Phnom Penh in this September 9, 2005 file photo. Cambodia's economy was devastated by civil war from the 1970s to the late 1990s, including four years under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, whose dream of transforming the country into a great rice power ended in the nightmare of the "Killing Fields". Now another agrarian revolution is under way as the government seeks to boost rice exports and cut poverty among its 14 million people. The key is better irrigation and fertiliser. To match feature CAMBODIA-RICE/ REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea/Files</p>