Rising rental fees could cause premier plant expo to wither
The Kaset Fair remains a top regional showcase for horticulturalists, but as the host university increases costs, growers are beginning to question whether participating is worthwhile, jeopardising the event's future
The annual agricultural fair at Kasetsart University's Bang Khen campus is coming up this Feb 1-9, and if you are looking for improved varieties of fruit trees to plant, you are likely to find them there. Last year's offerings included edible fig and Indian gooseberry, or emblic, with fruit as big as your big toe instead of your thumb. There were also mangoes that weighed one kilogramme or more each, jackfruit with red flesh instead of the traditional golden yellow or yellow orange, sapodilla with fruit the size of Vietnamese guava, marian plum or maprang with fruit the size of a hen's egg, dwarf coconuts that bear 30 to 50 fruit per bunch, bananas with metre-long bunches of fruit with hands bearing up to 21 fingers instead of the usual 12 to 14, limes with fruit as big as golf balls, and many others. Either the actual fruit or photos of them were shown, so that buyers would have an idea of what to expect from the trees.
SHELL SHOCK: It’s the season for tamarind, but beware of fruits with broken shells.
Last year also saw many different varieties of plants with variegated leaves. If you have a soft spot in your heart for variegated plants, the fair may have something in store for you. Also, expect to find new cultivars of decorative plants to add to your collection. What's good about the fair is that the nursery owners themselves are selling the plants, and they are very helpful in giving tips on how to grow them successfully.
Thailand is known for sweet tamarind, but with the exception of those sold at Chatuchak's Or Tor Kor farmers' cooperative market, most tamarind found in Bangkok markets are of inferior quality. This is probably because those of premium quality have been reserved for export. However, at the agricultural fair you can feast on the best as growers from Phetchabun bring their tamarind to Bangkok, along with other farm produce like onions, garlic and other fruit in season, occupying nearly one whole block.
TAKE YOUR PICK: From top to above, these varieties of mango, coconut and lime are just a few of the saplings to be found at the agricultural fair held at Kasetsart University from Feb 1-9.
Tamarind is harvested in December, but the fruit can last a long time provided its shell is not broken, or if it is oven-dried. Beware of fruits with broken shells as their pulp is likely to be mouldy and no longer fit for consumption. I seldom buy tamarind in shell because of this, except when I happen to go to Phetchabun, where sweet tamarind is mostly grown during the harvest season.
If past events are anything to go by, a number of companies that sell agricultural machinery, including wood-chippers, will have booths where they demonstrate how the machinery works. Some offer discounts during the fair, so check out the models on offer if you are looking for a machine to shred tree branches and leaves in your backyard to make them easier to compost.
Better known as Kaset Fair, the event used to be regarded as the region's premier plant fair. It was much awaited not only by orchard growers and nurserymen who wanted to showcase their latest hybrids and cultivars, but also by gardening enthusiasts in search of new varieties of fruit trees and ornamental plants to grow. In the past it occupied most of the university grounds, but during the last few years it has been shrinking in size and I won't be surprised if this year's fair is smaller than the last. This is not because it has lost its attraction _ the problem is that the cost of renting space has increasingly become prohibitive for most nurserymen.
Kasetsart University has been cashing in on the fair every year. In the beginning no one seemed to mind the fees the university charged for space, but with increases every few years many former stall holders now find it too high to be profitable. Last year, a stall owner lamented that it took one whole truckload of plants to cover the rental fee charged by the university. As he also had to hire a truck to transport his plants to the fair he was having second thoughts about participating this year.
In my hometown in the Philippines, Chinese merchants were much more successful than their Filipino counterparts. My mother explained that this was because they did not mind earning less initial profit to attract more customers, while Filipino merchants were just the opposite. If Kasetsart University charged less to attract more stall holders, it would end up earning more.
Fees are certainly justified, as the university has to pay large contingents of cleaners to scrub the grounds and dispose of the mountains of rubbish after the event. It also has to pay for public utilities such as water and electricity. But as an agricultural university, it has the moral responsibility to encourage agriculturists. The fair Kasetsart hosts every year should serve as a venue for hobbyists as well as nurserymen to show off their home-grown treasures, and to create camaraderie and exchange of ideas among plant enthusiasts. I am not asking that the university host the fair at a loss; what I am asking is for the fee to be reasonable so that this agriculturists' fair won't die a natural death.
Meanwhile, if you plan on going to the fair this year, remember this: Even when you buy a good cultivar, if you don't give the tree its requirements, it won't bear fruit as big as the ones on display. Fruit trees should be given enough sun, water and nutrients, and the soil must be well drained and mixed with equal amount of compost. Most nurserymen advise giving plants NPK 15-15-15 fertiliser every 15 days, for ornamental plants as well as vegetables.
POSSIBILITIES ARE BLOOMING: From below to bottom, plant enthusiasts are likely to find orchids, water lilies, crown of thorns and plants with variegated leaves at the agricultural fair.
About the author
- Writer: Normita Thongtham