Viet Nam News
By Hồng Minh
NGHỆ AN – An unnamed stream runs sinuously around an orange garden owned by five households in Pha Village.
It is a pretty sight now, but this was not the case all the time.
The owner of one plot in the garden, Thái Bá Trường, 57, remembers the pollution and stench during the rainy season as all unusable oranges dumped by farmers into the stream rotted.
Residents of the village in Nghệ An Province’s Con Cuông District would then long for another big rain to wash all of the rotting waste into the local Lam River.
“We would throw all the fallen, the dried, the ugly and the bruised fruit. We did not know what else we could do,” Trường said, adding that from his four-hectare plot alone, he would throw around a tonne of such oranges away.
During that time, it was not just the stench, the maggots and insects in the area that bothered the farmers, it was also a feeling of sadness, seeing the literal fruits of their hard labour rot, day after day.
But the ugliness and sadness is set to be thing of the past, starting this year.
There is no orange rotting in the stream now, because the growers have found a way to make full use of what they used to trash. Not a single orange has been thrown away this year, literally.
Last year, of the 150 households in Pha Village who grow orange, Trường and four others were selected to join in a project to grow organic oranges and generate more value from them.
The project is being implemented with support from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), in co-ordination with the Việt Nam Rural Industries Research and Development Institute.
Under JICA’s project for livelihood diversification through heritage tourism in remote agriculture and fisheries villages, Trường and other growers were provided with equipment to produce essential oil, a system to dry peels to make jam, an alcohol filter and machines to cap and date bottles.
All the fallen, dried and ugly oranges now become soaps, essential oil, jam, chocolate ingredient, liquor or syrup.
“Instead of throwing away the products of our sweat and tears, we now can make more benefit from such orange products and keep the environment clean,” Trường said.
Tăng Ngọc Sơn, leader of the project’s five-member group, said that all products made from orange were in great demand, creating extra value for the farmers.
“Before, we only could sell selected oranges for VNĐ30,000-50,000 (US$1.3-2.2) per kilo, but now, everything is money,” Sơn said.
The peels of fallen oranges are cut into pieces and distilled into high-value essential oil at the garden itself. The oil has a high value of VNĐ4-5 million ($180-220) per litre. Sơn said that about 70 kilos of fallen oranges would make 18-20 kilos of peels, which can be distilled to 200ml of essential oil.
“That already makes VNĐ1 million, much better than just throwing them away,” he said, adding that the peels would also be dried to make jam.
The pulp of a dry orange is juiced or fermented to make syrup or liquor. Sơn estimated the investment for a batch of 60 liquor bottles at VNĐ1.2 million, fetching a handsome price of VNĐ2.9 million.
“Also, the production does not require hard work. It is easy to operate and it creates stable jobs for people in our families with monthly income of VNĐ7-8 million,” Sơn added.
Last season, his four hectare orange garden earned revenues of VNĐ650 million ($29,000) from orange and orange products, helping him renovate his house into the most spacious one in the village.
Sơn said many households in the village have expressed their interest in joining the project after seeing Sơn’s group succeed.
Đào Xuân Mùi, a JICA project advisor, said that project’s greatest success was to help reduce environmental pollution as well as the huge amounts of waste generated in previous years.
“When we studied the area three years ago, we saw dozens of tonnes of oranges thrown in the stream, which gave us the idea to start the project. Now the growers can earn maximum money from their oranges,” he said.
Mùi, an expert from the Việt Nam Rural Industries Research and Development Institute, said his institute helped train and advise the farmers in making the essential oil, soap and jam, while the Hà Nội University of Technology trained them in making liquor and syrup.
The orange products have since been promoted at fairs, supermarkets and hotels in Hà Nội, Vinh and HCM cities.
Kha Thị Tím, deputy chairwoman of the Con Cuông District People’s Committee, said they have plans to encourage more households to join the project to grow organic oranges and expand production.
“We will help to build product recognition and find more markets for the orange products,” she said.
As a seasonal construction worker turned into an orange farmer, Trường of Pha Village is full aware of the hardships involved in starting to grow fruits without adequate knowledge, techniques and investment.
But he sees a brighter future ahead.
“In six years of growing orange, this is the only season that I have high hopes getting the utmost benefits.” — VNS