Rice Planting Season in Cambodia and the beginning of the Hunger Gap

I’m always humbled when I visit rural areas in Cambodia and see how people live.

Cambodian lady cleaning paddy rice for putting into sacks.

This week I visited Siem Reap Province in north west Cambodia. It’s rainy season at the moment, and everyone is busy out planting rice. Everywhere I went, there were seed beds, seedlings for transplanting, and paddy fields already filled. Depending on the variety of seed and the way it’s planted, the harvest will take 2 to 4 months to come.

And whilst they wait for the harvest from August to November, there is often not enough rice left to eat themselves.

Rice seedlings ready for transplanting into a paddy field.

So my first port of call was a community rice bank, a bank for lending rice as opposed to money. What the community members do is divide up the rice in the bank around this time of year, each family getting around 100 kg each. This will last them about 1 month out the 3 months that make up the hunger season. The other months they will still be short of rice, but they can do manual labour to help earn money to bridge the gap. Then in November, when the harvest comes in, they pay back the rice they owed to the bank together with around 10% interest e.g. another 10kg in addition.

Community members taking rice out of the rice bank (behind) to distribute to families for the hunger season.

Alternatively, some farmers are starting to use improved planting techniques to harvest better yields. So often it is assumed that larger harvests come with using improved seeds or more fertiliser, inputs that poorer farmers cannot afford. What I saw instead were farmers planting their seed beds more carefully. Firstly they would space out the rice seeds in the seeding beds instead of scattering them freely. The resultant seedlings are then transplanted around a month later into a paddy field where the earth has been completely flattened. This is instead of the traditional way where the field is churned up and left undulating. In the new way, seedlings are then placed in lines (to help weeding) instead of wherever the planter decides. Finally only 1 or 2 stalks are put into the ground as opposed to a clump of 10.

Planting rice in straight lines in Siem Reap to get 200%-400% yields

Using these simple techniques, farmers are talking of double, triple, even quadruple yields compared to using traditional ways: nothing like a technique that is costs nothing to make such a difference to people’s lives.

Writing about rice has little to do with running, as this blog is normally about. However the reason I’m putting it down is that athletes are often very careful about their food. And I just wanted to stop to realise what a luxury it is to be able to pick and choose what food I want. And how fortunate I am to have enough food to eat all year round.

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