Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ethnic Phnong villagers turn to homegrown produce for a living



Ethnic Phnong villagers turn to homegrown produce for a living

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A tourist buys a papaya from an ethnic Phnong villager at a market in Mondulkiri province. Pha Lina

Ethnic Phnong villagers turn to homegrown produce for a living

As she walks in the rain, the 65-year-old ethnic Phnong woman is on her way to Sen Monorom to sell the wild bamboo shoots and bananas she carries on her back. She wears a blue shirt, a krama and yellow flip-flops.

It’s another day in Mondulkiri province, and the woman is one of many local ethnic minority members who earn a living by selling produce, either homegrown or foraged from the jungle.

Her bamboo shoots sell for 1,500 riel (20 cents) a bundle, and her bananas go for about 500 riel a bunch.

The woman has been selling her fruits and vegetables this way since 1994. She speaks broken Khmer and refuses to give her name, explaining that the Phnong do not share that information with strangers. Even so, her story is one told by many.

The 2008 census reported more than 200,000 ethnic minority members in Cambodia, about 1.2 per cent of the 15 million population. Most of the 24 minority groups live in rural areas and subsist on farming, forestry and seasonal crops. Many carry on the traditions of their ancestors.

In the mornings, tourists to the area watch as ethnic minority members trudge their goods from all directions to the Sen Monorom market, the one near the giant banteng statute that symbolises the rugged Mondulkiri region.

Another Phnong woman carries a load of papayas and a giant pumpkin. Her 15-year-old daughter has bamboo shoots on her back. The pair walks from stall to stall, trying to barter wholesale deals with the market vendors.

This 35-year-old woman has six children and speaks no Khmer. She said through a translator that with the money she makes selling vegetables, she buys rice, salt and fish sauce.

“When no one buys our products we cook porridge and eat it with salt or these vegetables and fruits,” she said.

Ethnic villagers have been a part of life in Mondulkiri for ages, yet some feel unwelcome amid the rapid modernisation. The older Phnong woman said she had been chased away from homes and even criticised for not voting. She remains resilient.

“They chased us out for just sitting there for a while to sell. I just sit for a bit, and they say, ‘Don’t sell here, go somewhere else’. I don’t mind them saying that if I stay to sell in front of their house for days, months or years,” she told The Post.

The tension felt by the ethnic people is not lost on local authorities. Mondulkiri’s tourism department director Ngin Sovimean said a new market has been built for ethnic groups to sell their products.

“Some of them don’t want to sell in the market and prefer to walk along the roads or go to houses so their produce can get sold as soon as possible. It is up to them.”

The mother and her teen daughter seem to have made their decision. After selling their produce, they had enough money to buy some rice and even some cakes for the long walk home. As the teenager popped one in her mouth, she smiled.

But when tomorrow comes, their routine starts all over again.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants