Cambodia's royal oxen eat corn and beans during the annual ploughing ceremony in Phnom Penh May 12, 2009. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
Tuesday May 12, 2009
PHNOM PENH (Reuters Life!) - Cambodia's royal oxen dismayed farmers on Tuesday by turning up their noses at a traditional offering of rice, an omen the royal astrologer said boded ill for the harvest of the country's biggest crop.
The annual ritual, in which oxen plough a field near the royal palace before being given offerings, is taken seriously by many of Cambodia's superstitious, and largely poor, farmers if not by most of the politicians and diplomats who attend it.
This year, the oxen ate corn, green beans and soy beans, but avoided the other grains they were offered.
"This means we will have plenty of the corn and beans, but a poor rice harvest," astrologer Kang Ken announced after the ceremony which was presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni.
"This worries me a lot," said 27-year-old rice farmer Chan Thy as she heard the prediction.
The main harvest season is in November, and many farmers only harvest once a year because of lack of water.
The government is seeking to boost rice exports and cut poverty among its 14 million people, 85 percent of whom are farmers or members of farming families.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cambodia was the world's ninth-biggest rice exporter in 2007 with 450,000 tonnes and the agriculture ministry says the country could export 8 million tonnes by 2015.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is spearheading the agricultural reform in Cambodia, did not attend the ceremony.
Cambodia's rice production has increased to 7.2 million tonnes for the 2008/09 season from 6.7 million in 2007/08.