Monday, 24 March 2008

Farm sell-offs endanger Cambodian rice production

PHNOM PENH, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Rice production will be reduced in Cambodia if rice fields continue to be sold to be converted to business, factory or residential sites, the Mekong Times newspaper reported Monday, citing an Agriculture Ministry official.

"We are worried that, in the future, only non-fertile land will remain for cultivation because most of the rice fields will have been sold off," Kit Seng, director of the planning department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

Uon Sophal, a farmer in Cambodia's Kampot province, said that if current land transaction trends continue, most farmland will end up in the hands of the rich.

"Then farmers will find it more difficult to afford food," he said. "I would like to appeal to farmers not to sell their land because this will cause a shortage of farmland and it will drive rice prices up, which will be a burden on the country."

Farms in Cambodia are currently run overwhelmingly by impoverished farmers, and because of this poverty they are often tempted to sell their land for ready cash, said Chey Siyat, a member of an agricultural NGO.

According to MAFF figures, 85 percent of Cambodia's population relies on agriculture for a living.

Cambodia produces 6 million tons of unhusked rice annually and there are 2.3 million hectares of rice paddy land.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia

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