Going with the grain
by Le Hoang Vu
|Inventor Duong Xuan Qua checks the quality of rice after it has been processed by a dryer that he manufactured on his own. — VNS Photo Le Hoang Vu
AN GIANG — Poverty forced Duong Xuan Qua to drop out of school after completing his ninth grade and turn to farming, but it could not dim his passion and aptitude for tinkering with machinery.
Several years later, he moved to HCM City and began working for a Taiwanese company, where he learnt welding and designing steel staircases, doors and other things.
After learning as much as he could from the job, he returned to his hometown in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of An Giang, still liking to tinker with things and still wanting to make his fortune.
The year was 2002. He was 45 years old.
He not only worked as a welder back home, but also did several other things to earn his livelihood. He made a simple oven to bake bread, incubators to hatch eggs as also a machine to help make rice wine. In doing all this, he kept reading technological magazines and getting ideas about making improvements to existing equipment.
Then, one day, he struck upon the idea of making a paddy drier that was more efficient than the ones in use in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, the region known as the nation's rice granary.
When he finally managed to make one and it worked successfully, it was the happiest moment of his life.
"It was an indescribable emotion. If someone had given me five taels of gold then, I would not have been happier," he said.
Qua said that his paddy dryer was better than others used in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta thanks to the innovation of a fan system placed outside the kiln.
Other traditional paddy dryers also have the fan but they do not perform strongly enough to deliver the heat to all parts of the kiln.
Furthermore, the fan installed by Qua consumed less power.
"I accidentally saw a propeller used in a boat that could travel at 80km an hour. I decided to make the propellers with ten wings. That's why the fan in my drying system operates much better, giving stronger wind to the kiln than the others which use traditional propellers," Qua said.
"The modified fan can help cut 30 to 50 per cent of electricity used during the drying time. With traditional paddy dryer, the expense for one tonne of dried paddy is estimated at VND100,000, but that is reduced to VND60,000 by using my dryer," Qua said.
He said he was trying to further improve the system to reduce the drying cost for a tonne of paddy to VND40,000.
"The newly invented fan and the well-designed kiln means farmers do not have to work to spread out the rice as it dries. When using traditional paddy dryers, farmers often take all paddy out to put the top layer at the bottom of the kiln and the bottom layer at the top, to ensure the rice dries evenly.
"This is not necessary anymore," Qua said.
He said his dryer did not only give very good drying result but also delivered good quality rice.
In 2007, Qua established an enterprise for producing the paddy-drying machine with capacity of 10 to 30 tonnes.
Now, his enterprise employs more than 20 workers, excluding five teams that are in charge for assembling and offering maintenance services to customers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, the Southeastern and Central Highland regions.
With non-stop innovation of his products, more and more farmers want to buy the dryer. Although Qua's product was introduced to the market less than two years ago, buyers have come from all over the country after hearng about it. Last year, Qua exported 30 dryers to Cambodia.
Since 2005, he has sold more than 1,300 paddy dryers of all sizes for farmers in 18 provinces and cities.
Qua said that he has also successfully made a conveyor belt that transports paddy from boat to the dryer, with the aim of reducing labour costs for farmers.
During harvest time in rainy season, farmers cannot dry their paddy under the sunlight. And it's very difficult for them to transport the paddy to the locations of dryers.
Qua has even made floating paddy dryers that can be rowed along rivers and canals to the houses or paddy fields of farmers. The floating dryer can dry between 10 to 15 tonnes of paddy each time.
Early this year, Qua signed a "big contract" with the Co Do and Song Hau companies for installing more than 80 dryers.
Another major innovation that Qua is working on now is to use solar energy for the dryer. He is doing this under a research project funded by the Danish government, which has recognised Qua's earlier work by choosing him for the latest initiative.
Qua's dryers are bought by individual farmers as well as cooperatives and entrepreneurs. He provides good installation and after sales maintenance services to keep clients satisfied.
Every time his products are sold, he sends staff to help assemble the system. He does this for customers everywhere including the Central Highlands and Cambodia.
Nguyen Van Anh, a farmer in Tan Trieu District in Mekong Delta Dong Thap Province, who has bought three drying systems from Qua to offer the service to local farmers, said he was happy with the systems' performance. The contract was worth about VND1 billion.
His customers were very happy with the drying result, Anh said, adding that his factory was always crowded with clients during the harvest season while other plants in the area languished.
Anh, however, claimed that he himself has deployed some "tricks" to make the machine work even better, but declined to reveal what they were.
Before 2002, life was very difficult for Qua. He owed VND30 million to the bank and was struggling to make ends meet. However, with the very first contract for his paddy dryer, he paid of all his debt.
Qua refused to talk about his family's current income from the paddy drier business, but said his economic conditon was much better than in the past.
The 55-year-old man, known popularly as Nam Nha, king of paddy driers, has four children, three sons and a daughter. All of them are married. Two of his sons now help him operate the business.
Huynh Hiep Thanh, an agricultural official in An Giang, said the province has been praised as the locality having the highest number of paddy dryers in the country, with more than 2,300 systems that meet 80 per cent of local demand.
Qua's initiative and his Nam Nha Enterprise have made great contributions to the province's achievements in rice cultivation and processing, Thanh added. — VNS