There was a time, many years ago, when Cambodia was one of the primary rice bowls of Southeast Asia—able to feed its population and then some. By the time I arrived in Phnom Penh in February 1975 to cover the final weeks of a long and violent war that was about to get even worse, rice production had shrunk below subsistence levels. The entire economy, it seemed, was teetering on two legs of a stool—American economic aid, which continued to pour into the federal treasury, financing what was left of a shrinking and corrupt bureaucracy; and vast quantities of rice, airlifted in on a constant parade of cargo flights by several relief organizations, particularly Care, and two Christian missionary groups—Catholic Relief Services and World Vision. In 1972, when the war really cranked up, the rice harvest was barely 26 percent of...
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