Tens of thousands of melons are grown every year in the Kingdom as local farmers cash in on increasing local demand
Farmer Kim San shows off a locally-grown melon. He says he is the Kingdom’s first melon grower.
ALMOST unknown in Cambodia until a few years ago, the honeydew melon has become a hit in the Kingdom, with local farmers looking to cash in on the Mediterranean fruit.
Kim San credits himself with being the first farmer to grow the fruit, which is low in fat, cholesterol and sodium, but high in vitamins C and B6, after importing seeds in 2006.
"We still only supply a few supermarkets such as Lucky Market in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap," said Kim San from his farm about 40 kilometres from Phnom Penh.
He added, however, that buyers offer him about US$1.30 per kilogram - high, by the standards of the produce market - and that demand is rising.
High food prices and government efforts to tap export markers are leading farmers to expand beyond traditional crops and take advantage of the country's ample water supplies and warm climate.
Other farmers are catching wind of Kim San's success, and new operations are starting in Kandal and Siem Reap provinces.
The honeydew melon is not native to Cambodia, and seeds are imported from Thailand, which has a large local melon market.
Cambodia's tropical soils are unsuited for the early stages of development, so farmers buy peat moss that is imported from the Netherlands in order to get their crops rooted.
Kim San said that honing his techniques has boosted crop yields from 10,000 melons per year to about 30,000 from his two melon farms in Kandal province's Kean Svay district and Udong district in Kampong Speu province.
"If we have enough manpower and a bigger market for the products, we will be able to increase the harvest to 100,000 [melons] a year," he said.
Kim San has employed between five and six workers on his two farms.
More than 10 families in Siem Reap have been taught to grow melons by a Thai produce supplier, according to Kim San and other farmers in the melon trade.
If we have enough manpower and a bigger market for the products, we will be able to increase the
harvest to 100,000 per year.
Although Cambodia's hot weather makes for speedy growth, farmers also face the challenge of melon-destroying mold and pests such as insects.
Melons are thought to originate in drier regions of southern Europe and North Africa, making them vulnerable to tropical humidity and blights.
"We don't have greenhouses to grow the melons like in other countries," Kim San said.
"But we have to find practical techniques to protect against diseases because they can spread very quickly in this climate," he added.
Keeping melons healthy means daily inspections, especially during the humid rainy season.
Kim San said it takes about two-and-a-half months until a melon matures.
Melons weigh 2.5 kilograms on average, but some can weigh up to four kilograms.
Melon grower Pheoun Tith, 20, said that the new fruit is a profitable, but high-maintenance crop.
"We need to work very hard to take care of melons before they are one month old, but once the skin thickens they are easier to grow," Phoeun Tith said.
He said he has been working for a year on the farm and is paid $50 per month, in addition to free meals.
Heng Darith, a fresh products purchaser for the Lucky Market Group, said that the company used to buy all of its melons from Thailand and Vietnam, but is now relying on local supplies.
"We normally order melons from outside, but when local farms can supply our demand we buy from them," Heng Darith said.
"The only problem is they cannot produce enough," he added.
Lucky is the largest seller of melons in Cambodia, but purchase orders are made according to market demand.
"Lucky buys about 40 to 60 kilograms of melon per day, and most customers are foreigners," Heng Darith said.
"But more and more Khmer people are buying them," he added.