The sky is clear this afternoon after a morning of heavy downpours. In Thmor Bang district, in the southeastern province of Koh Kong, a farmer walks towards the field to check on his crops. He is now planting banana and durian trees.
For in depth analysis of Cambodian Business, visit Capital Cambodia
“My dream is to grow healthy fruits that people all over the country can enjoy,” says Lak Hak, who has recently switched over to organic farming for the 10 hectares of land he cultivates in Russie Chrum commune.
“Fruits produced following organic practices don’t harm the health of producers or consumers. Organic farming is also cheaper as you don’t have to buy expensive chemical fertilizers,” he says.
Organic farming is spreading swiftly across Koh Kong, with farmers saying that it enables them to grow high-quality fruits that will popularise Koh Kong as a durian-producing province.
Durian farmer Sak Phon, who lives in Sre Ambel district, also in Koh Kong province, is one of 50 farmers working with organic farming techniques in this area.
Mr Phon, who has farmed the land in Sre Ambel for over a decade, says yields of the fruit this season will be high; sales will not disappoint either, he adds.
“Durian from Koh Kong is excellent and delicious and demand for it in the market is high,” he says. “However, most people still don’t associate Koh Kong with durian,” he says, lamenting that produce is often sold without a label indicating its origin.
As he walks towards the field, which lays just two kilometres away from his home, Mr Phon tells us that he has been working following organic farming methods for just over a year, after he received training from Centre d’Etude et de Developpement Agricole Cambodgien, or CEDAC.
“CEDAC trained us on farming without the use of chemical substances, which are harmful to our health. After completing my training, I decided to start using organic techniques in my farm,” Mr Phon, who owns over 5 hectares of land, says.
The durian season in Cambodia has just begun. Generally, it starts in May and lasts until July or August, when the fruits are sent to every corner of the country from producing provinces, which include Kampot and Kampong Cham, among others.
While Cambodians’ appetite for durian has increased in recent years, concerns over the use of harmful chemicals in farming are also running high.
Vong Savoeun, an officer for CEDAC, says one of their primary goals is to boost the reputation of Koh Kong as a province capable of yielding high-quality fruits, particularly durians.
“We support during farmers in Koh Kong by providing them with the technical skills they need to grow quality fruits, and by organising them into agricultural communities so it is easier for them to find buyers,” Mr Savoeun says, adding that CEDAC works in three districts in the southeastern province: Sre Ambel, Botom Sakor, and Thmor Bang.
According to Mr Savoeun, Koh Kong durian is known to have great quality and taste, but, somehow, people still fail to associate the province with the fruit. By helping spread organic farming techniques in the province, CEDAC hopes Koh Kong will earn a reputation for its organic durian.
“We want people to know that Koh Kong has durian farms; that people here grow organic durian,” he says. “Our hope is that one day Koh Kong durian will be as popular as Kampot pepper.”
Koh Kong is the first province where CEDAC is working to introduce organic farming techniques. In the near future, they plan to expand the programme to Pailin and other provinces, Mr Savoeun says.
CEDAC’s project, which started last year and is run in cooperation with the ministries of environment and agriculture, is fully funded by the Asian Development Bank, he adds.
CEDAC buys products from participating farmers to sell them at their stores in Phnom Penh, which guarantees farmers a market for their produce.
As he walks the field collecting durians, Chham Lybuntheng, a farmer in Thmor Bang district, says he is now trying to quit using chemical fertilizers on his crops, which besides durian, also include rambutan, banana, and mangosteen.
“This land is rich with natural fertilizers, so I’m trying to use less chemical substances after I learnt they damage the soil,” he says.
Mr Lybuntheng used to grow coffee beans, but he cleared the field and starting planting durian after he learnt that demand for the fruit was picking up. He now has 700 durian trees in 11 hectares of land.
Durian is a high-potential crop in Thmor Bang district, says Aun Sothearith, the district governor. He explains that most farmers now prefer to use natural farming methods.
Agriculture is the main driver of economic growth in the district, he says, adding that 90 percent of residents are farmers. In second place comes ecotourism, an industry that is growing fast across the Kingdom.
“Our soil is very rich, so our farmers don’t need chemical substances,” he says, adding that he hopes to see Koh Kong fruits gain national recognition someday in the not-too-distant future.
Back in Russie Chrum commune, Lak Hak tells us that adopting organic farming techniques is not easy, as farming with natural techniques takes a longer time, but it is worth it as long as he continues to produce healthy fruits that consumers love.