Orange farmers feel the squeeze

source: Khmer Times

Farmer Nha Kosal airs problems he faces while cultivating oranges. KT/ Mia Vireak

Battambang province – Orange farmers in Banan district are dealing with a range of challenges from technical issues to market price problems, despite the province being well known as favourable for orange farming due to its soil and weather conditions.

Manh Sos has about 20 orange trees. She faces high fertiliser costs and a lack of knowledge about taking care of her trees.

“Last year, I earned about $1,600 dollars but this year I did not take good care of them with enough fertiliser, so they don’t bear a lot of fruit now and the income tends to go down,” she said. “The main obstacle is how to use fertilisers and pesticides to make them grow well.”

“We use only a little fertiliser and pesticide and now they have a disease. The leaves have become reddish and we are finding it hard to treat them,” she added.

Ms Sos wants agriculture officials to come teach people growing techniques just as they do for planting rice.

“I wish they would do the same for fruit growing and find markets for our products,” she said. “I really want the officials to give us training because with this training, we will know how to use fertilisers and pesticides.”

Talking at his house surrounded by chickens, Chou Bunheap said he had 200 orange trees.

“We just grow according to what we used to do and when we go to buy fertiliser, the sellers tell us how to use it, but we use only a little,” he said. “We were called for training once years ago. Recently, officers came to train farmers but only some were invited. Maybe it is not our turn yet.”

Mr Bunheap said the market was not stable and the price tended to increase when they could get the least harvest and dropped when everyone had an abundance of oranges.

The Ministry of Agriculture is seeking the European Union’s geographical identification (GI) status for the Battambang oranges due to the fruit’s unique and sought-after flavour resulting from the least use of chemical fertilisers compared with oranges from Thailand and Vietnam.

Nha Kosal, who grows oranges among banana trees, said he believed that the oranges of Battambang were much better than Thai oranges which were big because of the overuse of chemicals.

“We just started with organic fertilisers,” he said. “Orange trees are a bit hard to take care of. When we collect the harvest, the price on the market fluctuates. In some years, it is down while in some other years it is up.”

“We cannot control it. For us, our oranges are better because we don’t use much chemicals like Thailand,” he added. “What is hard to control is the disease on the leaves. We don’t have a way to restore them. All we can do is the cut them down and regrow them.”

Long Phorn, deputy chief of the provincial department of agriculture, said his officers were training people on technical matters about growing rice, vegetables and fruit.

“We, along with the provincial water resources department, are working hard on developing irrigation systems in Battambang province,” he said. “However, we also have to rely on the water from rain and though there is drought hitting some parts of the province, farming is still doing fine because some rain came.”

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