|Written by Sam Rith|
|Wednesday, 13 May 2009|
But Royal astrologer predicts good rice harvest as farmers worry
"Beans and corn will enjoy better yields this year," Royal Astrologer Kang Ken told assembled guests and a crowd of several thousand people.
Speaking to journalists later, he said farmers would benefit from 30 percent higher rice yields, and the rains would fall as usual. Kang Ken said the ploughing ceremony had been held since ancient times to let farmers know that the "planting season is coming".
But farmers said the implication was that this year's rice harvest would decrease.
"I am now very worried about this year's rice crop because the oxen did not eat any rice," said Yim Chhrouk, 66, a farmer from Sangke Chhrum village in Prey Veng province who came to Phnom Penh to watch the ceremony.
Yim Chhrouk said her worries were further increased because it was not possible to grow any crop other than rice near her village, most of whose residents are farmers.
She had learned from previous experience that when the oxen refused rice, her rice harvest would drop between 30 percent and 50 percent on her 2 hectares of land.
Vang Sak, 53, a farmer from Thnaot village in Prey Veng province, agreed that yields would be lower.
But 52-year-old Hun Heun from Ram Karn village in Battambang province said it was too early to tell.
"I don't know what the rice yield will be, but I will still plant my rice crop because the seeds have germinated," she said.
The Ministry of Agriculture declined to comment on the significance of the oxen's rejection, with Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves saying his ministry was instead encouraging people to plant as much rice as possible.
"Our plan is to improve the rice yield year on year," he said, adding that the Kingdom harvested 7 million tonnes of rice last year and that he expected that this would improve due to better irrigation, higher-quality seed and input from farming experts.
This year's ceremony was presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni.
It saw Supreme Court President Dith Munthy appointed as the sdech neak, whose role it is to drive the six royal oxen three times around the park, and his wife as the mae hua, who scatters seeds.
Two oxen were then presented with seven bowls - one containing rice, and the others containing corn, soybeans, sesame seeds, water, wine and grass. Consuming rice, beans, corn and sesame seed indicates a plentiful harvest of those crops; if they drink the water it means farmers can expect rain or flooding; if they drink wine it means war; and if they eat the grass it is the sign of a poor crop.
Chea Chhoeurn, 48, a farmer from Speu village in Kampong Cham, said the predictions were correct three-quarters of the time. As a result of today's events, he said he would plant more beans.