The Ministry of Environment has urged the people to stop cutting down malva nut trees to harvest their fruit because it is illegal to do so during the rainy season.
The fruit carries a high price tag at markets, with 1kg costing between 35,000 and 45,000 riel.
Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on Tuesday that malva nut trees grow in the middle of the jungle and their fruit can be harvested once they’ve grown for 12 to 15 years.
The practice of harvesting fruit from the trees dates back to ancestral times, when families harvested just enough for themselves.
Harvesters would wait until the fruits dropped naturally to gather them.
In 1999, the fruit became highly sought after in markets, and people started felling the trees to gather the fruits easily.
The activity resulted in a consistent annual decline of malva nut trees in the Kingdom. Cutting down malva nut trees to harvest fruit is against the law.
“[The people] have been felling the trees in various areas. Our forest rangers went down to teach them and fine those who were caught doing this,” Pheaktra said.
He said according to information given by the O’Tung Community Protected Area in Ratanakkiri province, selling malva nuts is the easiest way to make money for the community.
During harvest season, local traders arrive and wait in line to buy it from community members.
He said community traders said 90 per cent of the market demand for the fruit is imported from Vietnam, while the other 10 per cent is harvested locally.
Phnom Penh’s Bayon Malva Nut company has produced malva fruit-infused water for the domestic market, he said. The retail price is 4,000 riel per bottle while the wholesale price is 2,000 riel per bottle for an order of 50.
Pheaktra said: “The ministry has also appealed to the people, especially those living in natural protected areas not to fell the tree to harvest its fruit.
“It is like destroying natural resources. So, if we let malva nut trees stand, they will continue benefitting us forever. But if we cut them down to pick up its nut, it is illegal.”
Pheaktra said malva nut trees are plentiful in northeast Cambodia, especially in Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces.
Harvesters can earn from four to 10 million riel per year by collecting the fruit. In Stung Treng province’s Siem Pang district, most families rush from their homes into the forest to collect the fruit when harvest season starts, Pheaktra said.
The forest buzzes with activity, and it feels like a special economic centre that’s busy day and night.
“According to a lower estimate, Siem Pang district makes about two million riel per year selling malva nuts.
“The malva nut trees are like a large bank for the district. If citizens don’t preserve them, soon they will suffer a serious loss due to their short-term thinking,” he said.
Stung Treng provincial hall spokesman Men Kong said on Sunday that the provincial administration had arrived in the district to teach citizens not to fell the trees.
“We have also collaborated with environmental officials and border military forces to instruct the people when they are allowed to harvest the fruit.
“Malva nut trees in our province tend to grow along the border in Siem Pang district,” he said.