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On my way to Chong Kneas floating village, I photographed this Cambodian boy tending his water-buffalo over the rice field at Phnum Kraom, a village between Siem Riep City and Tonle Sap Great Lake where locals rely on floating rice and fishing to survive.

In Cambodia, the major rice producing areas are in low lying regions in the areas around the Tonle Sap Great Lake where floods expand its banks in September or early October and along major rivers, of which the Mekong River is by far the largest. In addition to the two regular crops, peasants plant floating rice in April and in May. Before the flooding occurs, the seed is spread on the ground without any preparation of the soil, and the floating rice is harvested nine months later, when the stems have grown to three or four meters in response to the peak of the flood. Floating rice has the flexibility of adjusting its rate of growth to the rise of the flood waters so that its grain heads remain above water. It has a low yield, probably less than half that of most other rice types, but it can be grown inexpensively on land for which there is no other use.



According to FAO, deepwater rice (or floating rice) is grown where the water depth exceeds about 80 cm (up to 400 cm) in flooded areas around the Tonle Sap and in depressions along the Mekong River, mainly in Kampong Thom, Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Takeo provinces. Most deepwater crops are dry seeded in April/May with seeds germinating with the onset of the rains. The depth and duration of flooding is dependent upon local rainfall and/or the height of the Mekong River. Areas may remain flooded for three to six months.

Dry season rice may be grown either as a fully irrigated crop at the end of the wet season, or in flood recession areas, normally with supplementary irrigation. Dry season rice is also now being planted in deep flooded areas in place of the more risky and lower yielding floating rice, that is grown in the wet season. Under these circumstances supplementary irrigation is normally provided. Mostly modern varieties are used, and yields are significantly higher than for the wet season crops.

After nearly three decades of war and civil strife, the Cambodian economy continues to be affected by a legacy of turmoil. Agriculture is the backbone of the Cambodian economy, and it depends on irrigation supplementary irrigation for wet season crops and full irrigation for dry season crops. Most existing systems were damaged by natural deterioration due to inadequate finance to operate and maintain irrigation systems.

Almost no trained managerial personnel, means, capable organizations or databanks are present: a problem that is most strongly felt at provincial and lower levels. Compared to the need, the capacity of governmental organizations is far too weak, which results in a continued struggle in the field of water management. Farmers still use traditional water management methods. Attempts to improve the situation often fail and many recently built structures will collapse within a few years if they have not already done so. Why is this so? The only examples known by the responsible builders are the structures in their own neighborhood or their own familiar methods and no other sources of knowledge are available. As a result, mistakes of the past are frequently repeated while improvements are achieved in a laborious trial and error process.

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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 472 W: 128 N: 2360] (8578)
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