Concern spreads over possible coconut beetle infestation, which devastated crops in 2004.
Healthy coconuts on sale in Phnom Penh this week. Farmers in Battambang say a disease is afflicting their palm trees and threatening their livelihoods, as officials say they are investigating the possibility of a spreading coconut beetle infestation.
Samlot District, Battambang
FARMERS across Battambang province say their livelihoods are in peril as thousands of coconut trees and their valuable crop perish and fears spread of a possible infestation of Brontispa longissima - or coconut beetles - which wrought havoc on Cambodia's coconut crops five years ago, provincial officials say.
Khiev Moung has been a coconut farmer for years, but when the leaves of his palms turned red and began to die a few weeks ago, he lost confidence in his trade - the only source of income for his family.
"I don't know why my coconut trees are dying. They are dead, and I have noticed that many coconut trees in other places are also dead, and others look like they're going to die," he said at his farm in Samlot district, Battambang province.
Provincial officials say problems with coconut crops in Samlot could be linked to the presence of coconut beetles in adjacent areas.
"We believe coconut trees are dying because of coconut beetles," said Cheam Chan Saphon, director of Battambang province's Agriculture
Department, adding that the department was sending people to investigate the situation.
"The [beetles] are killing coconut trees and other plants in this province," he said, adding that "officials are currently working with farmers in Banan district to use chemical insecticide to kill these beetles.... We are not sure if it is happening in [Samlot district], but we will send officials to investigate it and use chemicals to kill them if need be."
Khiev Moung, who owns over 20 coconut trees, said he would likely face difficulty supporting his family if the remaining palms aren't saved.
"[Coconuts] are a good crop to sell and support my family with. If they are not all saved soon, I will lose a lot of money," he said.
Cheam Chan Saphon said the pest, which feeds off young leaves and damages seedlings as well as mature palms, was responsible for killing more than 18,000 trees in Mondulkiri province in 2004. Since then, he adds, they have spread to other places in Cambodia.
"When the fruit of the trees die, it affects the farmer's feelings and discourages them to plant coconuts in the future," he said.
Many coconut farmers, such as Ly Buoy, who is Samlot district's police chief but who also owns more than 40 coconut trees, said Wednesday he believed the problem was spreading but had no idea why.
"I don't know the cause.... We are all wondering because it's happening everywhere here," said Ly Buoy. "We have no agricultural officials to check this problem. Please tell us what measures we can take to prevent the trees from dying."
Worse still, the problem appears to be spreading, he said. "Some of the trees have died and others look like they're going to die soon."
So Khanrithykun, deputy director general of the ministry's General Directorate on Agriculture, said his officials were currently working to help
farmers in Kampot and Takeo provinces to reduce cases in which the beetles have remained from the outbreak in 2004.
"I don't know whether coconut trees in Battambang province are being threatened by the coconut beetle or not, but we are looking into it," he said.
He said resources were concentrated on farmers in Kampot and Takeo province since the outbreak in 2004, as these were the only two provinces not to recover.
"We have educated people on ways to use other insects to kill [the beetles]. We do not ask them to use chemicals because it costs much more money," he said.