PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's royal oxen predicted a bountiful harvest of rice, the country's biggest crop, as well as corn and beans at an ancient royal plowing ceremony on Thursday.
King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the annual ritual, in which oxen plow a field before being given offerings, held in the southeastern province of Svay Rieng and broadcast on national television.
During the ceremony, which signals the start of the new rice growing season, two oxen ate 95 percent of the rice and corn on offer and 80 percent of beans presented in ornate bowls.
Palace astrologers make their predictions each year depending on the oxen's choice of crops and the amount they eat.
Korng Ken, a Brahmin priest dressed in traditional white robes, prayed for regular rainfall and crop season free of mishaps.
"I pray for the Kingdom of Cambodia to escape various natural disasters that are harmful to crops that are the lives of the people and the nation," he said.
Cambodia exported 635,679 tonnes of rice last year, a 17.3 percent rise from 2016, according to government data. Exports fell three percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period a year ago.
The Cambodia Rice Federation said the overall trend was for exports to grow due mainly to rising demand from China.
"They like to take our rice to cook fried rice...the demand increases every year," said Moul Sarith, the Federation's Secretary General.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Darren Schuettler)