Ask a Cambodian about the island of Koh Trong and you’ll most likely get a one-word response: “pomelo”.
The Mekong island a short ferry hop from the town of Kratie is renowned throughout Cambodia for producing the best pomelos in the country.
“The pomelos we grow are organic, we don’t use any chemicals,” explains Sao Sothy, 43. “That’s why they are so good.”
Sothy has been growing the fruit that resembles an overgrown grapefruit ever since a child, inheriting his orchard from his father. With 50 trees, it is one of the biggest on the island. Most people on Koh Trong have only five or six trees.
“The best season for pomelos is November and December,” he says. “At that time we can sell 1,000 fruit each month.”
With each fruit selling for 7,000 riel, Sothy makes a tidy profit during these peak months. The rest of the time he teaches at the local school and tends his chickens while waiting for his pomelos to ripen.
Recently Sothy added a further 20 trees to those planted by his father many years ago. Although these have not matured sufficiently to bear fruit, they represent Sothy’s response to increasing demand.
“I have planted more trees because I see the market is very good for pomelos,” he says. “Business has increased each year. It is very good.”
Despite the advent of eco-tourism to the island, Sophy finds the demand from foreign tourists is limited. His best customers are domestic tourists, especially those from the capital.
“Foreign tourists rarely buy pomelos, but Khmer people buy them to give as gifts to friends and families,” he says. “Sometimes they buy 100 or 200 to give to their family in Phnom Penh.”