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Battambang oranges making a comeback

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A farmer plucks ripe oranges at an orchard in Battambang province in 2017. Heng Chivoan

Battambang oranges making a comeback

After being nearly dormant for years because of the spread of a deadly disease, the famous Battambang orange is starting to make a comeback.

Previously, the orange industry was almost destroyed by an incurable disease, known as citrus greening, which reared its head in the 1990s, causing infected trees to be felled.

In Sovanmony, deputy director of the Battambang Provincial Agriculture Department, said that a few years ago, he was sure citrus greening would sound a death knell for the province’s famous orange industry, as farmers gave up on the fruit in favour of other crops.

However, with help and training from experts, and switching to a new orange variety, cultivation has slowly returned.

“Previously, our orange trees were widely affected by the disease, but now we have new plants that were developed through research. They are more resilient to disease, stronger and healthier too.

“We are also promoting awareness of new growing techniques and how to use fertilisers properly. Thanks to the more resilient plants, farmers have started cultivating oranges on a larger scale,” he said.

Last year, orange cultivation expanded nine percent to 1,169 hectares compared with 1,071 hectares in 2016, Sovanmony said.

The Battambang orange is unique in that its rind is green when ripe. The Ministry of Agriculture in 2016 said it was seeking to have the fruit recognised under the EU’s geographical identification (GI) status because of its unique flavour.

Mak Samoeurn, a 66-year-old citrus farmer, has some 500 orange trees on his 1.5-hectare orchard in Battambang’s Sangke district.

He said he has been lucky thus far in that his latest batch has remained disease-free. However, he had to fell nearly 400 trees a few years ago when they were infected with citrus greening.

“My farm is doing fine now. I learned a lot from the technical training given by the Agriculture Department on how to care for my orange trees and prevent them from being affected by disease. “I follow the instructions from the training I underwent and in the last season, I earned $3,000 in net profit from my harvest.

“Now more farmers are starting to plant oranges again, after gaining confidence from the experience of others,” he said.

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