The rainy season is sputtering out at last and the Kingdom has begun to dry out under sunny skies, but you wouldn’t know it if you took a look at some of the thousands of hectares of farmland growing lush and green in districts like Phnom Kravanh and Talou Sen Chey.
The green view is a testament to the rapid changes taking place in agriculture and the fortunes of the farmers living in the remote rural areas of Pursat province due to the irrigation infrastructure built there that began operating last June.
A farmer living in Kandal village of Phteah Rong commune in Talou Sen Chey district, Keo Chanry, 38, told The Post that her family was now ploughing and cultivating a 50-acre field next to a main canal after she had just harvested last week.
She said she was preparing the fields to farm OM seeds, a non-seasonal rice variety that can yield from five-six tonnes per hectare, depending on the proper application of fertilisers and pesticides in accordance with the technical standards recommended by agricultural officials.
Saying that she has more than two hectares of farmland next to the back of a dam situated on a sub-canal of the irrigation system, Chanry said that by cultivating two or three times per year like she is now, she believes her family’s lives will soon improve and they will be lifted above the poverty line through the rewards of their own efforts.
“These days I am very happy because ever since the restoration and modernisation of the Damnak Chheu Krom irrigation system our villagers’ livelihoods have changed and improved, with each family being able to produce rice two or three times a year with an average yield of four or five tonnes per hectare,” she said.
According to her, before the irrigation system was completed and modernised, her family as well as the other villagers in Talou Sen Chey district could only harvest rice once per year at the end of the rainy season with yields of around two to three tonnes per hectare.
It was even worse, she said, in the dry season. There were very few farmers who even tried to grow rice that time of the year because there was not enough water for irrigation and the yields were always less than one tonne per hectare.
“My family owed a lot of money on loans due to the lack of irrigation system in the dry season. The average yield of rice that we grew in the dry season was only 400-500 kg per hectare, but the irrigation has changed all that,” she said.
Other farmers in Phnom Kravanh district are also now growing rice and other mixed seasonal crops multiple times each year thanks to the irrigation system, which so far has been able to maintain and supply enough water for all of them to use in every season.
Hoeun Hen, 52, a farmer in Damnak Kanseng village of Bak Chinhchien commune in Phnom Kravanh district of Pursat province, told The Post that for the past two years his family as well as other farmers in his commune have been doing well and have even had enough water available to raise livestock.
In recent years, he said, nearly all of the younger people in the area had gone to work in Thailand as construction workers or in Phnom Penh as garment workers. A few had gone to work on corn or cassava plantations in Thailand as well.
“In the past, my family and the villagers here had a hard time because it wasn’t just that we didn’t have enough water for farming, we didn’t even have enough water for our daily use, but for the past two years we have had enough water for farming in all seasons, both dry and rainy, and our fields are now very productive at six tonnes per hectare.
Kith Phal, deputy director of the Pursat provincial Department of Water Resources and Meteorology, told The Post that the Damnak Chheu Krom irrigation system was based on a former unregulated irrigation structure that was built during the Democratic Kampuchea era.
Under the project to manage and reduce the risk of floods and droughts in the Greater Mekong Subregion, the irrigation system was restored and modernised in an environmentally friendly manner.
He said the project started in June 2017 and ended in June 2021, with a total budget of more than $31.5 million, 73 per cent of which was financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the rest came from loans or directly from the Cambodian government.
After being restored and modernised, the irrigation system can hold more than 8.20 million cubic meters of water to supply the daily needs of more than 28,000 families in five communes: Samrong, Bak Chinhchien, Khna Toteung, Pheah Rong and Talou, which are all located in Phnom Kravanh and Talou Sen Chey districts.
Not only that, it can supply more than 16,100 hectares of farmed land during the rainy season and 6,000 hectares in the dry season.
“The irrigation system of Damnak Chheu Krom plays a very important role in reducing the risk of floods and droughts in Pursat province,” he said.
According to Phal, Damnak Chheu Krom is a modern dam system with five large sluice gates operated by an automated system located on the Pursat river at the border between Talou Sen Chey and Phnom Kravanh districts. It is designed to prevent flooding during the rainy season. There is also a “fish gate” that allows fish to move around upstream or downstream unhindered.
The system also has a structure to store and distribute floodwaters to various ports along the main canal with a length of 165 km as the two sides of the canal are flanked by a road for farmers to transport agricultural products and there are four new regulatory structures across the main canal to control the flow and water levels in the main canal, which can divert water into the sub-canals, which have a total length of 3,736 km, while the Cheung Ka’eb canal has a total length of 3,699 km.
On November 24, Jyotsana Varma, the country director for the ADB in Cambodia, expressed her satisfaction with the outcome of the project and encouraged the farmers to increase their production and get more involved with animal husbandry now that there is a modern irrigation system that can supply enough water for the community and farmers.
“Growing rice alone is not enough. We should grow more vegetables and raise chickens, ducks and fish to ensure food security in local communities and across the country – and it also increases household incomes,” said Varma.