A trip to Wang Yang can yield visitors a bumper crop of water chestnuts
Thiam Sakulphram, 61, has grown Chinese water chestnuts for decades. Nowadays, the price has dropped almost by half to 50 baht a kilo due to the closure of restaurants and factories for processing water chestnuts. Visiting tourists will give extra income to the farmer. Harvesting water chestnuts from a muddy chunk is labour intensive. A rai of land can yield up to 4 tonnes of haeo. After harvesting, Thiam will peel the black skin of the water chestnut by cutting the top and the bottom before peeling the middle part and making sure that each water chestnut has a perfectly round shape. She will boil them for a middleman. Her produce together that of other farmers will be delivered to wholesale markets including Talat Thai and Talat Si Mum Muang in Pathum Thani.
The late morning Sun was almost unbearable. It was about 10.30am when I arrived at a water chestnut farm in Wang Yang District in Suphan Buri. It was my first one-day trip after the lockdown measures were eased last week.
Thiam Sakulphram gave me a broad smile before putting a mask on while I entered the front yard of her house.
“It was quiet during the past two months. I’m glad to have a visitor,” she said.
Thiam is a farmer. She is one of 45 members of Somwang Thi Wang Yang Community Enterprise and Community-based Agrotourism Group. My trip started at her farm. She would teach me how to harvest water chestnuts or haeo, aka somwang, in the Thai language.
The agrotourism group was initiated by Wang Yang Municipality three years ago with the support of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. The aim was to help farmers earn extra income. The municipality also wanted to promote a local way of life for water chestnut farmers after the vegetable was registered as a Geographical Indication (GI) product of Suphan Buri in 2017.
Haeo is widely grown in Muang, Sri Prachan and Sam Chuk districts. About half of the 3,000 rai of total haeo farms in the province are located in tambon Wang Yang in Sri Prachan district, according to Koolchaya Klaysuban, an officer with Wang Yang Municipality. She is also the treasurer of the agrotourism group.
“We are the largest producer of water chestnuts in Thailand,” she said.
Haeo is a water plant that can grow well in the mud. It has tubular green leaves which may look like shallots at a glance. Farmers in Suphan Buri have grown the plant for decades, but it became a popular economic plant around 1950 when some locals started planting the imported water chestnut from China. The size was larger than the local variety. Consumers preferred the Chinese water chestnut due to its big size and crunchy texture.
Normally, farmers in Wang Yang rotate plants in their farmland. After growing rice for two rounds, they grow water chestnuts and sometimes taro. This technique can help keep the land fertile. They do not use hazardous chemicals nor the burning method of conventional farming to kill weeds, said Koolchaya, adding that some farmers practise organic farming.
To eat the sweet and crunchy water chestnut in Wang Yang, I needed to harvest them first. Thiam handed me a pair of long black socks together with a pair of orange thigh waders and yellow gloves.
“Put an elastic band on your wrists to make sure the gloves won’t fall off,” she advised.
Thiam walked barefoot. She led me and Koolchaya to a water chestnut plot.
“Why don’t you wear waders and gloves like me?” I asked Thiam.