Bang­ing the drum for the Bang Mot or­anges

Bangkok grow­ers watch the fu­ture of this sweet ’n’ sour va­ri­ety peel away as de­vel­op­ers move in, writes Supoj Wan­charoen

Bangkok Post - - SPOTLIGHT -

Anyone who has tried a Bang Mot or­ange is un­likely to for­get its dis­tinc­tive sweet-sour taste that lit­er­ally drips with flavour. It grows in eight dis­tricts in the cap­i­tal but orig­i­nates from Bang Mot in Thon Buri on the west side of the Chao Phraya River, an area fa­mous for its fer­tile, potas­sium-rich soil that gives the fruit its sig­na­ture taste.

How­ever, ris­ing land prices and other fac­tors are jeop­ar­dis­ing the or­ange’s fu­ture, warn cul­ti­va­tors and con­ser­va­tion­ists, who see it as an “in­her­i­tance” for later gen­er­a­tions. They fear farm­ers in other parts of the coun­try will buy the seeds and reap the ben­e­fits while Bang Mot, the birth­place of this hugely pop­u­lar va­ri­ety, gets stepped over and for­got­ten.

To en­sure its sur­vival amid ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion, a group of farm­ers is band­ing to­gether to pre­serve their tra­di­tional grow­ing meth­ods. In re­cent years, the Bang Mot or­ange has been dis­ap­pear­ing from lo­cal mar­kets, re­placed by other va­ri­eties from the North in­clud­ing Sai Nam Phe­ung and easy-to-peel Man­darin.

On top of this, prop­erty de­vel­op­ers are of­fer­ing farm­ers in Bang Mot eye-pop­ping prices to sell their land while en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems in the cap­i­tal are hurt­ing crop yields in Bang Mot or­ange or­chards.

Crit­ics say this is cause for con­cern as just 32 grow­ers run or­chards on 80 rai of land in Chom Thong, Thung Kru, Bang Khunthian, Rat Bu­rana, Bang Bon, Pha­sicharoen, Bang Kae and Nong Khaem — the eight Bangkok dis­tricts al­luded to.

Dur­ing a re­cent visit to sev­eral of these or­chards the Bangkok Post talked to some of the grow­ers about their ex­pe­ri­ences and what they be­lieve, or fear, the fu­ture will hold.

Kal­laya Thong­niem, 59, owns an or­chard in Bang Khunthian district. She re­layed a story that her grand­par­ents told her about an old man called Sem who al­legedly first brought the Bang Mot or­ange over to Thai­land from China in 1920.

Ms Kal­laya said her ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther grew fruit in the same district and adopted the Bang Mot va­ri­ety in 1937. Sadly, dis­as­ter struck in 1942 when all the Bang Mot trees grown on a 10-rai plot were de­stroyed by floods. In 1967 her fa­ther started over with other va­ri­eties but these too were washed away by tor­ren­tial rains in 1975.

“My dad tried again in 1977 but more floods forced him to put his dream on ice for a few decades — un­til my older brother started grow­ing new or­ange seedlings taken from the two sub-dis­tricts of Bang Khun Non and Bangkok Noi in 2003,” said Ms Kal­laya.

An­other ma­jor flood in 2011 de­stroyed these crops so the fam­ily de­cided to take a break from or­ange-grow­ing un­til Ms Kal­laya felt it was time to re­vive the or­chard a few years ago.

She claims the va­ri­ety found in Bang Khun Non and Bangkok Noi is par­tic­u­larly good when grown in the salty, al­lu­vium-rich soil of her or­chard. This nat­u­ral alchemy pro­duces a more de­li­cious fruit than if the same seeds are grown else­where in Thai­land, she said.

“The Bang Mot or­ange has a dis­tinc­tive flavour. It is sweet, slightly acidic and its peel is thin and easy to re­move. This, and the soft rind, has made it es­pe­cially pop­u­lar,” she said.

An­other grower in the lo­cal­ity, 64-yearold Su­pab Sumthong, said her grand­par­ents started her or­chard, too. It was flooded, aban­doned for years, re­vived, then later de­stroyed by a sub­se­quent del­uge, she said.

Ms Su­pab re­calls hear­ing how the Bang Mot va­ri­ety sold for 1.5 baht per kilo­gramme in 1957, when grow­ers still trans­ported their prod­ucts to mar­ket by boat. The or­ange now costs around 200 baht per kg and is con­sid­er­ably harder to find, largely due to lower yields.

Since 2003, the re­main­ing grow­ers have come to­gether to launch a pro­gramme that lets them share their ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge for im­proved yields. The ini­tia­tive is sup­ported by agri­cul­tural tech­nol­ogy ex­perts from Chom Thong district of­fice.

“We came up with this pro­gramme af­ter hear­ing that HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirind­horn ex­pressed her wish to see Bang Mot or­ange-grow­ing pre­served as a form of ‘in­her­i­tance’ for the na­tion,” said Ms Su­pab.

The farm­ers say they only use or­ganic pes­ti­cides, in­sec­ti­cides and fer­tilis­ers. The first two are made us­ing lo­cally grown herbs while the fer­tiliser is a prod­uct of ma­nure and mud that grows in the or­chard’s wa­ter­courses which is rich in nat­u­ral min­er­als.

Ms Su­pab said ur­ban­i­sa­tion is a ma­jor threat to Bang Mot or­ange-grow­ing ar­eas as prop­erty de­vel­op­ers rush to snap up land plots for new hous­ing projects.

An or­chard next to hers, about 300 me­tres away from the main road, has at­tracted bids as high as 25 mil­lion baht per rai, she said. Other plots by the main road can sell for 80 mil­lion baht per rai, she added.

Sell­ing up is very tempt­ing in light of the fall­ing yields, plum­met­ing prof­its, en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion from nearby fac­to­ries and grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion, she said.

“One so­lu­tion would be for the gov­ern­ment to bet­ter reg­u­late the use of land in this area by clearly sep­a­rat­ing the in­dus­trial zone from the green zone,” Ms Su­pab said.

“We in­tend to pre­serve [the Bang Mot or­ange-grow­ing fields] for later gen­er­a­tions but we don’t have anyone to turn to when we need help.”

To sup­ple­ment her shrink­ing in­come, she said she has started grow­ing other fruit and veg­eta­bles to sell.

She said she was in­spired by the suf­fi­ciency econ­omy phi­los­o­phy es­poused by the late King Rama IX.

Kal­laya Thong­niem is one of the lo­cals who de­cided to pre­serve the Bang Mot or­ange or­chards they in­her­ited from past gen­er­a­tions.


Ms Kal­laya has re­vived her or­ange or­chard in Bang Khunthian district af­ter floods a few years ago.

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