Fast growing crops like lettuce, cabbage or kale are often grown once or twice a year, but few of Cambodian farmers opt to plant and harvest such produce year round.
One exception to this rule can be seen in Kampong Chhnang province, where more than 100 households have elected to focus on year-round production of garlic scapes.
Similar to chives, garlic scapes are the flavourful tender green shoots that sprout from young garlic plants.
In Trapaing Krapeu village, Teuk Hout commune, Rolea Ba’ier district, 160 households harvest up to four tonnes of the delicious scapes each day.
“I am very satisfied with my garlic business and will pass my skills onto my children. As long as the price of garlic shoots remains high, my farm generates more than $2,000 in revenue from each bimonthly harvest,” said Seth Phy, a 40-year-old farmer.
She told The Post that she has been growing garlic since 2000. She began with 10ha of land, after learning the technique of garlic cultivation from local farmers.
“When we first began, we did not get the results we expected, and felt like our labour and capital had been wasted. After we received training from the Kampong Chhnang provincial Department of Agriculture, we started to see better results,” she said.
“We were cultivating according to traditional habits, and didn’t know how to apply fertiliser in the right way, or how to rotate crops. This meant our yields were poor, and sometimes we lost money. Once we applied what we learned from the specialists at the agriculture department, we saw excellent progress. They also helped us with our marketing,” she added.
She now farms more than 80ha, and harvests up to 400kg of garlic scapes a day. Phy is a member of “Toek Hout Mean Chey Kdey Sangkhem Agricultural Cooperatives”, which consists of nearly 600 households, about 160 of them focused on garlic.
“Garlic leaves can normally be harvested in two months, but if the soil is good and conditions are right, we can harvest them in just six weeks. My net revenue can exceed over $2,000 per harvest, although that is before my labour and capital costs, which are usually around $1,000,” she explained.
Rith Chantha, chairman of the board of the cooperative, which uses a different transliteration of the commune’s name Teuk Hout, told The Post that there are currently 581 households in the community, 415 of them headed by women.
“The community’s garlic farmers harvest a total of four tonnes per day, and can do so year-round,” she said.
According to Chantha, most of the garlic leaves are sold in the markets of Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Battambang and Pursat provinces. The average price is 4,000 riel per kilogramme.
“The popularity of garlic leaves from Rolea Ba’ier district comes from their unique colouring and attractive scent. The community has fertile soil and year-round irrigation, so it is an ideal crop for us,” she said.
“These leaves are now a part of the identity of Kampong Chhnang province, and demand is high. Due to a lack of production capital, we are currently unable to meet that demand, however. Garlic transplanting machines would help, but we are unable to invest enough to afford them. The training that the agriculture department provided helped us to overcome a lack of capital though,” she added.
Ngin Hun, director of the provincial agriculture department, told The Post that in the past, local farmers had only grown garlic on a small scale.
When the department realised the farmers were ramping up production, specialists were dispatched to support them with training, in business skills as well as agricultural techniques. They also sought out markets for the high quality garlic scapes.
On the recommendation of the department of agriculture, the farmers employ only natural fertilisers. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries helped drill wells and installed a network of pipes to improve irrigation in the district.
“The ministry drilled wells and established an irrigation network on an area of almost 100ha, allowing the garlic farmers to enjoy their current success” said Hun.