Watermelons bear fruit in between 50 and 65 days, depending on seed and soil preparation, and the use of fertilisers and pesticides, so they are an ideal short-term earner for many of the Kingdom’s farmers.
Traditionally, most watermelon farmers in Cambodia grow the tasty fruit after they have harvested their rainy and dry season rice crops, although in some parts of the country, the land is favourable for year-round growing. Watermelons are always in demand in the Kingdom’s markets, and are less labour intensive to farm than rice.
As autumn draws to a close, Cambodian watermelon farmers are happily harvesting their latest crops. Currently, melons are wholesaling for 3000 riel per kg. A good quality hybrid seed can provide a yield of 15-20 tonnes of fruit per hectare.
45-year-old Thuon Por, a farmer in Samrong commune’s Kork Romduol village of Oddar Meanchey province’s Samrong disrict, told The Post that the price he can get for watermelons which weighed more than two kg is 300-500 riel per kg higher than the previous year.
“Watermelons are easier to grow than many other vegetables. They give a high yield and are easy to sell. Early in autumn, I harvested more than 20 tonnes of watermelon on each ha of land. I got 3,500 riel per kg for yellow watermelon and 3,300 riel for red watermelon, which is higher than I got last year,” he said.
According to Por, watermelon cultivation requires more capital, but ultimately is a profitable pursuit, earning him from $1,500 to $2,000 per ha.
Thanks to the profits he has made in the past four or five years, Por has built a concrete house and added 10ha of land to his existing 4.5ha farm.
Sala Visay commune chief Chin Hin, of Kampong Thom province’s Prasat Balang district, told The Post that his family also grew watermelons on just over 2ha of land. In around 60 days his family had earned up to $5,000.
“Watermelons do not need too much water, although they do need some. At this time of year, this requires modern irrigation techniques. Traditional cultivation would not be possible, but thanks to the advice we have received from agricultural officials, we were able to make a profit,” he said.
He added that about 70 per cent of the farmers in his commune, or 200 families, grow watermelons between the rice seasons. Their favourite seeds are the red S1 variety. Although the seeds can cost up to $250 per kg, they are capable of producing up to 20 tonnes of fruit per ha.
Tong Heng, a farmer in Khnar Sandai commune in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Sei district, told The Post that people generally grew them from November to April as the weather was favourable for watermelon and prices remained high. Heng has only been growing watermelons for the past two seasons.
“Yellow watermelons are now popular in the market. Even though they have the same taste, their popularity means they demand higher prices than the traditional red fleshed varieties,” he added.
Although his lack of experience meant he was only able to harvest 13 tonnes of fruit per ha, he still earned between 10 and 15 million riel each season.
Thoun Por, a successful watermelon grower in Oddar Meanchey province, explained the two techniques that farmers used. In some parts of the country, watermelon seedlings are grown in small containers and then planted once they have begun to sprout.
In his area, the seeds are planted directly in the fields. He believed his method meant the fruit all grew evenly, and suited the damper ground of his province.
He added that after 30 days, the watermelons began to blossom. This was the time to use fertiliser and pesticides, to ensure that insects did not attack the fruit. When the watermelons are about 45 days old, he begins to speak to wholesalers.
“If we leave the fruit in the field for too long, they will become over ripe, or even rot,” he said.
Watermelon trader Seng Bunthy told The Post that he generally made contracts to buy a farm’s full harvest. Each of his trucks could carry around seven tonnes of melons.
“The price depends on the variety of fruit. For red fleshed melons, I generally offer about 3,000 riel per kg, with yellow ones reaching 3,500 riel,” he said.
The most desirable fruit came from Kampong Thom, he added.
“Although many farmers are now starting to grow watermelons, there are not enough to meet the demand of the market. We import many tonnes of them from Vietnam and Thailand, and of course, in most of the Kingdom, we cannot grow them during the rainy season,” he said.
According to Bunthy, the red soil plateau of Kampong Cham is suitable for growing watermelon in all seasons, but not many farmers are taking advantage of this.