Beong Tompun Lake is a source of income for the poor people in the Phnom Penh city who would grow water spinach in the water. Over 200 families have built their homes next to this lake, which has a dark colour and a bad smell. Every day, they can earn from 20.000 riel to 30.000 riel.
Mrs. Terl Saron is 49 years old and has 3 children. She has been growing water spinach since 1990. Early every morning, Mrs. Terl Saron waits for the middlemen who buy the water spinach from farmers like her to sell in the markets in Phnom Penh.
She describes the process of growing the water spinach. Firstly, they grow the plant on normal land for two weeks before moving it to the water. After one month, they can harvest it to sell in the markets.
Mrs Terl Saron added that even this water is fertile enough to help the water spinach grow, but some chemical fertilizers and insecticides mixed with chemical powder is needed to help the water spinach grow well.
She says, “I get this about 50 batches to 100 batches of this water spinach. We use chemical fertilizers, and in less than 15 days we can harvest. If we have a lot of water spinach, it will take a long time to harvest.”
Beong Tompun in Khan Manchey district covers more than 300 hectares. The lake is a big basin that contains all the rubbish of Phnom Penh. Mrs Terl Saron has half a hectare to grow water spinach. But she claims that she rents this space from private owners for 800 thousands riel per year. The process of growing water spinach is similar to that of growing crops on land. The people use a small boat to move about and collect water spinach.
In the same district, 30-year-old Mrs. Krouch Sokthern has been planting water spinach ever since she was young. She describes the income received from growing the water spinach as being the same for that of other plants.
She says, “Sometimes 100 batches and sometimes 70 batches because it depends on whether the water spinach is good.”
She claims that the “water spinach are taken to be sold in many markets in Phnom Penh such as Doum Kor market, Central market, Chbar Ompov market, Toul Tompong market, Orisey market, etc.”
A big batch of water spinach from the farms is 500 riel. For the same price, you can only get one small batch in the market.
29-year-old Mrs Chan Sethan started selling water spinach 3-and-a-half years ago in the Doumkor market, from early morning to afternoon. She sits with a lot of water spinach in front of her , chatting with a few customers nearby.
She says, “The batches of water spinach in the farms is not the same in the market, because the sellers need to profit. Since I started selling water spinach, I have seen regular customers suffer any bad health from eating it..”
Lecturer Chok Borin, Vice Rector of the University of Fisheries describes the condition of the water: firstly, the polluted water has N.P.K. (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (Kalium)), which comes from faeces, urine and other rubbish. These materials affect not only the animals, but nearby residents as well.
”Sometimes we see dead fishes in the water, especially in the dry season. This lake’s water is very dark, which means that it is very polluted,” he says.
However, Professor Seak Sophat of the Department of Environment at the Royal University of Phnom Penh said that it is good to grow water spinach in the lake, as it can purify the water by absorbing N.P.K. from water.
He says, “We didn’t see much pollution because the water spinach only absorbs N.P.K.. It’s roots can pick up some heavy metals (chemical poison) but according to our research it’s just a little bit.”
That said, Dr. Thomas Murphy, Co-lab Director of the Environmental Health-Metals Pharmacy said that if the water spinach comes from a bad environment, people who eat it could get sick.
“Diarrhea is the most common. It depends on how the water spinach is cooked.”
There is currently no government research being done on the effects of pollution in Beong Tompum, and information has only been coming from independent researchers.