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Co Tu grow their way out of poverty

Update: June, 26/2012 - 16:33

 

Taking root: Briu Po, an ethnic Co Tu farmer, began growing ba kich (morinda officinalis) on his land in 2007 after taking a cutting from a wild plant he found growing in his native Lang Commune in 2006. — VNS Photos Huynh Van My
Bottles of ba kich tonic wine, which is used to treat a variety of ailments ranging from infertility and high blood pressure to rheumatism and back pain.
 
by Huynh Van My

The ethnic people of Quang Nam's Lang Commune have discovered a unique way of escaping poverty – they have begun to grow ba kich (morinda officinalis) plants, which are sought-after throughout the world for their medicinal properties. The perennial plant's cylinder-shaped root is dried and used to treat a variety of ailments ranging from infertility and irregular menstruation to rheumatism and high blood pressure. Although its presence was well-known in Quang Nam Province, in 2006, herbalists discovered it growing in Lang Commune. Ethnic Co Tu living in the region have been taught how to propagate the plant and now cultivate it in a communal garden, which has brought a measure of prosperity to the impoverished region.

Lang Commune lies in the Viet Nam-Laos border region. The communal ba kich garden, which was planted in October 2010, lies about 15 minutes walk from Porning Village.

The plants grow to a height of 60-100cm and produce yellowish-green flowers and black pea-sized fruit. The stems are very slender, so the plants grow best when supported. They also like shade, which is why the Co Tu grow ba kich under cassava plants.

Colau Chon, the village's deputy head, said: "At the moment the villagers are busy cultivating the plants so they don't cut the grass in the garden. They will do this in one month's time."

Briu Ghiem, chairman of Lang Commune's Farmers' Association, said: "We planted 11,000 ba kich saplings but only 70 per cent survived. The land here is ideal for the plants but they have to be carefully tended."

The communal garden is partly funded by Tay Giang District's medical centre.

Ghiem said the plants would be harvested at the end of 2013. Each of the pencil-like roots, which are between 0.5-2cm in diameter, produce about a kilo of root powder.

A ba kich farm owned by Briu Po, an ethnic Co Tu, lies a few minutes drive from the Lang Commune garden.

He is currently cultivating ba kich plants, grown from seeds, and hopes to harvest the roots at the end of this year.

Po said it was he who went in search of ba kich plants with Dr Ngo Van Trai from the National Institute of Medicinal Materials in 2006.

Po took cuttings from which he successfully grew 20,000 mature plants. "I sold them to local people and farmers from Binh Phuoc and Yen Bai provinces for VND10,000 (US$0.48) each," he said.

Trai said that he explained to Po and other residents that if they could find a way of propagating the plants they could earn a good living.

 

The dried root of the perennial plant
 
Po has been growing ba kich for five years. "Since 2009, I have produced thousands of kilos of ba kich roots each year. Others fix a price of VND400,000-500,000 ($19-23) per kilo but I sell the root for just VND300,000 ($14)."

From the money he has earned growing ba kich, Po has built a new house, extended his farm, dug a pond and opened a nursery. At the moment, he is the only farmer selling ba kich seeds in Tay Giang District.

"The district buys my seeds to give to the communes. Unfortunately, local people can only plant a limited number of ba kich because there are not enough seeds to go around," Po said.

Nguyen Van Phu, head of Tay Giang District's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the local authority planned to fund the setting up of a ba kich nursery.

"Ba kich growing has been prioritised. We will build a nursery to grow seed plants, and give the seeds to local residents. This will contribute to eliminating hunger and reducing poverty in the area." — VNS

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