>CAMBODIA: Poor farmers hit by high cost of fertiliser

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Photo: WFP Cambodia
A school-feeding programme near Siem Reap. According to WFP, an estimated 2.6 million Cambodians live in extreme poverty and face food deprivation

PHNOM PENH, 19 May 2008 (IRIN) – The spiralling cost of fertiliser is affecting up to half of Cambodia’s two million farmers, including Lam Leng, a 30-year-old farmer from Kompong Speu Province, who told IRIN how he had been forced to collect fruit from palm sugar trees to feed his impoverished family.

The price of food is soaring, but he is particularly hard-hit by the cost of inputs for his crop. Leng is desperate. The cost of fertiliser has doubled, the father of five said, which meant he was unable this planting season to afford chemical fertiliser to tend his one-hectare rice paddy.

“If I don’t use fertiliser, I don’t get a good yield of rice,” he said. With his rice field dry and infertile, Leng said it was necessary for his wife to seek work at a garment factory where she earns US$50 a month labouring long days stitching clothing. But even with that additional income, the Leng family can only just make ends meet. Lam Leng said pork and beef were just a distant memory, and he was scavenging for crabs and frogs in the rice fields to add protein to his family’s diet.

Yaing Saing Koma, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, told IRIN that approximately 50 percent of Cambodia’s estimated two million farmers have been badly affected by the soaring price of fertiliser.

“Small farmers need loans so that they can afford fertiliser,” he said, adding that if the price of rice remained high, the farmers could, perhaps, break even.

The introduction of better seeds and modern technology could increase their rice yields from two to three tonnes per hectare, Yaing Saing Koma said, adding that increased yields also depended on the fertility of the soil.

In Cambodia, 78 percent of the country’s 2.5 million hectares of agricultural land is used for rice production and about 6 percent for fruit and vegetables. Another 16 percent is planted with grains, rubber and other crops, agricultural officials said.

2.6 million Cambodians in extreme poverty

According to a 2006 analysis by the World Food Programme’s Food Policy Research Institute, an estimated 2.6 million Cambodians live in extreme poverty and face food deprivation due to the poor management of agricultural resources.

About 40km west of Phnom Penh, the capital, in Kompong Speu Province’s Samraong Tong commune, farmers are spreading cow dung they have collected throughout the year over their rice fields in the hope it will nurture a better harvest. These subsistence farmers say they have been forced to reduce their reliance on chemical fertiliser because of the sky-rocketing cost. But while the cow dung is useful, they worry that the harvest will be far smaller than in previous years when they were able to afford chemical fertiliser.

Por Bien, a 55-year-old farmer, who works a 1.5 hectare piece of land, told IRIN that it was difficult for him to afford even several sacks of fertiliser for his rice field. One bag cost $20 last year, he said, but has now doubled to more than $40.

“Fertiliser is very expensive, how can we earn enough money to buy it?” Por Bien asked while carrying great heaps of cow dung to his field.

Kith Seng, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Statistics and Planning Department, said the government had no funds to provide fertiliser or seed rice to impoverished farmers except when their rice fields had been affected by natural disasters, such as drought and flooding. He added that farmers should have collected more manure to safeguard against their inability to purchase chemical fertiliser.

“The farmers have to use more cow dung instead,” Kith Seng said.
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