Royal Ploughing ceremony in Cambodia

by Agence-France Presse AFP, May 23, 2008 | Destinations: Cambodia / Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH, May 23, 2008 - Cambodia's royal cows performed an ancient ceremony on Friday, predicting the country will have a "quite good" rice harvest this year, despite global concerns over supplies of the grain.

King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the country's Royal Ploughing ceremony in a park outside the royal palace. Thousands of people watched on as royal astrologers observed what the cows ate to signal the coming year's harvests.

After a symbolic ploughing of a portion of the park's field, a pair of royal cows were led to seven dishes -- rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol -- laid out on trays.

"Based on what the royal cows ate, the rice harvest will be quite good," chief astrologer Kang Ken declared before the crowd of onlookers.

He also said the corn harvest would be good, but the bean crop would be average.

The traditional ceremony marks the start of the planting season in the kingdom.
Farmers who joined the ceremony hailed the prediction.

"This means that we will not face rice shortages in the coming year," said 58-year-old Kao Tob, a rice farmer in Kampong Chhnang, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh.

Even if the harvest is strong, Cambodians face soaring food prices. Inflation reached double digits late last year and now hovers around 11 percent.

Good-grade rice -- Cambodia's staple food -- has nearly doubled in price this year.

It now costs nearly 0.90 dollars per kilogramme (41 cents per pound), deepening the poverty of the one-third of the population who live on less than 50 cents a day.

World rice prices have soared this year, a trend blamed on higher energy and fertiliser costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of rice farmland to biofuel plantations, and price speculation.

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