domrey chon klah village, Kompong Thom province – On the main road in Kompong Thom town, darkness comes. Cheng Kim Chhoung sits in his home, not far from a wooden footbridge above a still pond, listening to the shrill shrieks of crickets echoing through the air.
This was just another night for Kompong Thom’s cricket hunters. But the hunt is low intensity and all Cheng Kim Chhoung, 61, and his neighbors have to do these days is flick on the light and wait.
“I can catch 5 to 6 kilograms a night,” Cheng Kim Chhoung said. But later in the year, when the insects “are really big. Some places can catch 75 to 110 kilograms a night.”
Cricket-catching is a lucrative and booming trade in Kompong Thom, where a new type of ultraviolet lamp lures crickets into water traps.
Rare species of crickets are the top prize, though, fetching up to about $1.50 per kg.
“They stuff nuts into the crickets and fry them,” Cheng Kim Chhoung said, offering serving suggestions. “They could eat them with rice, alcohol or just eat for fun.”
For Kong Nath, 35, a cricket buyer and seller, the margins of the business are tight. Each new morning in the province brings her to the Thmor bridge at Stung Sen River, waiting to buy the bugs before taking them to sell in Phnom Penh or Poipet. She buys the jittering insects for about $0.25 per kg and makes about $0.03 profit when the bugs are scarce. She can make up to about $0.18 profit per kg when they are abundant.
For now, the crickets are teeming and business is booming. Cheng Kim Chhoung does it as a side job for his chicken-raising business. Kong Nath, too, works in the chicken business, but the profits in cricket-selling are too good to ignore.
Some provincial officials worry that the new technology of the lamps is driving cricket species to extinction in the region. But Cheng Kim Chhoung is not impressed with that argument. Hunters like himself are helping to protect their way of life, he said.
“If we attract a lot of crickets, it will reduce destruction of rice and crops,” he said. Besides, “more will come in November and December.”