The Pailin Provincial Department of Water Resources and Meteorology has laid out four strategic plans to build reservoirs and irrigation systems to supply the agricultural sector. This sector is a priority of the province as more than 70 per cent of the population are farmers.

At a press conference on the progress and work direction of the provincial council on February 17, provincial water resources department director Nga Lyhong said Pailin has the potential for more intensive agriculture but lacks the water to irrigate crops. In 2016, the province faced severe water shortages and the department made the town water supply its first priority.

“Back then, the department asked farmers to scale down cultivation because there was not enough infrastructure in place that could store the water they needed. We focused on work in other areas,” he said.

He said the department has developed three irrigation systems which are now capable of supplying water to more than 6,500ha of rice paddies on each 10,000ha of land. In the 65 per cent that they supply to, farmers are now growing three rice crops every year. Previously they could only harvest one.

He added that the water was also used to irrigate crops other than rice, including vegetables and mangos. Despite these irrigation systems, the water supply was still not adequate to meet demand across the province.

Lyhong said that in order to ensure enough water for use in all sectors, the department was planning to implement four major projects.

The first strategic project was to build reservoirs, an important element of a water supply system. The water resources ministry has now built many reservoirs across the country, but the reservoirs in Pailin have not yet taken shape after five years of planning. Construction had been delayed by various factors, including the pandemic, he noted.

He added that the second project was the collection of precise hydrological data. The department required detailed records of rainfalls to plan its reservoirs and only had 20 years of data to examine. Figures from up to 40 or 50 years were required, so the department would need to consult with the ministry to conduct its research.

“The reservoirs will be used to store and then release the excess water that we absorb during the rainy season, so it is clear that detailed annual rainfall records are necessary,” he said.

Creating as many new irrigation systems as possible would be the third part of the department’s strategy. They were consulting with Chinese engineers on the most effective sites, he added.

The fourth part of the strategic plan would be to ensure that water resources were distributed efficiently throughout the irrigation systems and reservoirs to guarantee that the water was available when and where it was needed, he said.

Lyhong said development of water resources was made more difficult because Pailin was a former battlefield, and remained heavily mined. This meant that work was carried out with great caution and could not be hurried.

Provincial agriculture department director Say Sophat said the agricultural sector in the province had grown significantly since 2017, when just 56,000ha was under cultivation. That number had grown to more than 77,000ha.

“During the same period, annual yield increased from 58,000 tonnes to more than 90,000. Please note, these figure apply only to cash crops. Our farmers also grew more than 14,000ha of rice for their own use,” he added.