Farmers in Banan district in Battambang have been unable to grow oranges for two years due to a rare, highly infectious tree disease that causes their leaves to mould rapidly
Eleanor Ainge Roy
A farmer points to the beginnings of silver leaf disease in his orange tree in Banan district.
JUST three years ago, the farmland in Banan district in Battambang was flushed with the lush green colours of the orange trees whose fruits have made the district and the province famous throughout the country. In 2005, the area was registered as an "agricultural tourism site" by the Battambang provincial governor.
But now there are hardly any orange trees left on the 30,000 hectares of farmland in the district, and the leaves of the few orange trees still left are no longer green but grey. Farmers have turned to other crops such as beans, mangoes, chilli or guava after a rare disease - known as "silver leaf disease" - started killing their orange trees two years ago after a season of particularly heavy flooding.
Sun Tek from Chhoeuteal commune has grown oranges for as long as he can remember and is one of the few orange farmers still trying to grow the popular fruit.
"We have had a problem with the land since it was seriously flooded [two years ago]. Now, my orange trees always die.... but I have not changed to grow other fruits yet because I want to find a solution."
He fears that Battambang will lose its reputation as the province with the best oranges if the problem continues and calls on NGOs or the government for help.
"The farmers in this district are dependent on growing fruit, but since they have had this problem, and have had no NGOs or government officials come to help, it leads them to change to growing other fruit," he said.
Nothing to be done
According to Sath Sokhom, deputy of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department in Battambang, there is nothing to be done about the problem, and he said he urges farmers to change to other crops.
"The land in Banan district is infected with silver leaf disease, and it causes mould in the orange trees and also infects the land. So when they grow new orange trees, they get infected with disease," he said.
"We do not have the solution to help the farmers, so they cannot grow oranges any more - we suggest they should switch to grow other crops," he said.
Toch Soun Nara, governor of Banan district, said that most farmers in the area have already changed crops.
"It is very hard for farmers to grow oranges, but they can change to growing other crops," he said, adding that most farmers in the district have already switched to other crops. He doesn't fear for the province's reputation in the future.
"In my district farmers cannot grow oranges, but in other districts of Battambang farmers can still grow them.... So, we can keep our famous oranges in this province," he added.