HCM CITY — Nguyen Dinh Tung is one of hundreds of farmers in Tay Nguyen ( the Central Highlands) who have replaced cashew trees and other crops with pepper bushes.
|A farmer from Ea Ning Commune in the Central Highland Province of DaK Lak tends to her pepper garden. Land used for pepper cultivation in Central Highland provinces has rapidly increased in the past years, helping local farmers to improve their incomes. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Hoa
Tung, who lives in Dak Nong Province, grows coffee trees on three hectares and cashew trees on two hectares in Quang Duc District's Quang Tan Commune.
In previous years, he had managed to harvest a respectable 2.5 tonnes of cashew nuts, but his last crops have had low yields because of frost and unseasonable rains.
"My family decided to cut down our cashew trees after other farmers switched to pepper during the rainy season," he said.
Authorities, however, have warned farmers that such unplanned cultivation on a large scale could have negative consequences, especially on selling prices.
Farmers have switched to pepper because in recent years the price has been high, whereas other major trees like coffee, cashew and rubber have been sold at lower prices.
The price of pepper stands at VND118,000-120,000 (US$5.6-5.7) a kilo.
Last year, Hoang Van Suu, a farmer in Tuy Duc's Dak Buk So Commune, earned a profit of more than VND1 billion ($47,000) from 12 tonnes of pepper grown on his 4.5-ha plot.
In the Central Highlands, land used for pepper cultivation has increased by 3,200ha in the past year, with a total now reaching 24,883ha, according to the region's Steering Committee.
The new pepper-growing areas in the Tay Nguyen region are mostly in Dak Nong, Gia Lai and Dak Lak provinces.
Dak Nong has 1,000ha of newly planted pepper, according to the province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Ho Gam, the department's deputy director, said pepper had helped many farmers become wealthy over the past few years.
"However, the rapid increase could affect the province's zoning plan for pepper cultivation," he said, adding that the province has 7,769ha of pepper while its zoning plan calls for only 6,000ha.
"Unzoned cultivation and improper farming techniques (such as planting in low-lying areas where rain drains slowly) could lead to disease outbreaks," Gam said.
In the first seven months of the year, more than 177ha of natural forest in Dak Nong was cleared to grow pepper, according to the province's Sub-department of Forest Protection. The wood is also used for poles on which to grow the pepper.
Do Hoai Nam, chairman of the Viet Nam Pepper Association, said the country had zoned 50,000ha of pepper, but the area under pepper cultivation covered more than 62,000ha.
This area could increase to 80,000ha in the near future, causing prices to decline.
Disease outbreak in many pepper orchards is another risk, as farmers are using seedlings that have no clear origin.
In Viet Nam, pepper is grown mostly in the Central Highlands provinces of Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and the southern provinces of Binh Phuoc, Dong Nai and Ba Ria – Vung Tau.
Nguyen Xuan Hong, head of the Plant Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said farmers should invest more in intensive farming of peppers, which would have a higher yield on a smaller area.
Hong said one farmer in Gia Lai Province planted 30ha with a yield of 10 tonnes per hectare, compared to the country's average yield of 2.4 tonnes per hectare.
The farmer used organic fertiliser and live trees as pepper poles to increase the moisture of the soil and pepper yield. — VNS