The villages where ‘black gold’ falls from the trees

Hoerm Oerun sweeps up bat guano. SCOTT ROTZOLL

Brent Crane, The Phnom Penh Postv
Sat, 12 March 2016

In Kandal’s O’Romchek village, and several others around the Kingdom, the residents have developed a unique and lucrative symbiotic relationship with the local bats

On a clear morning in O’Romchek village in Kandal province, beneath a strip of palms squeezed between two verdant fields of cassava and morning glory, an old man swept at bat faeces. They were fresh pellets, coffee-coloured and sweetly pungent. Some still fell from the chittering palm trees above, where the 87-year-old farmer, Mao Koy, kept six artificial bat roosts. Six other palm trees also possessed man-made roosts but belonged to his neighbors.

The guano, which Koy sells to farmers around Phum Cham district in large sacks as fertiliser, provides 100 per cent of his income, about $100 a month. Bald, nearly toothless and lean to the point of emaciation, with sun-dried leathery skin, he explained this week that he had been profiting off the bat droppings since the early 1970s, with a gap during the Khmer Rouge era (1975-79).

Chea Jon is Kandal’s premier bat roost engineer. Scott Rotzoll

“I collect this guano everyday for selling here. It’s not too hard,” Koy said.

The method behind the harvest is simple. The roost is made by stringing together a collection of palm leaves with wire. It is then hauled up to the top of a palm tree and fastened there, so that the dead leaves hang downwards below the live palm leaves. Silhouetted from a distance, roosted trees look like monster-sized dandelions.

Soon, the insectivorous bat colonies arrive. When they take up residence, their guano – or “black gold” as Asian bat expert Neil Furey calls it – collects daily at the base of the trees in putrid, inky rings. Some harvesters wrap netting or tin flaps around the trunks to ward off snakes. After that, it is all pretty maintenance-free. It is a win-win too – as the bats giveth profits, they taketh away mosquitoes. (more…)

Posted on: March 11, 2016 9:18 pm