by Hanh Trang and An Vu
|Measuring up: Than Xuan Truong in the thriving factory measures up some new slow-combustion cookers. — VNA/VNS photo
|Buyer waits: The inventor/businessman explains the main points of his revolutionary new fuel cooker.
|Ready for the kitchen: Many households in Tan Yen District are using Truong's cookers for domestic purpose. — VNA/VNS photo
With an austere look always on his face, no one would ever know that Than Xuan Truong has improved the livelihood of many people in Tan Yen.
Hard work and failure blessed with devotion led to the creation of a simple but highly effective slow-combusition cooker that, as they say, is selling like hot cakes. It is reputed to save up to nearly 50 per cent of the fuel bills for a normal, portable Vietnamese fuel stove.
Born into a large and poor family, the 35-year-old had to work as a hired worker and postpone his dream of attending high school.
Coming from a life of hardship, Truong and his wife borrowed VND50 million (US$2400) from the local bank in order for him to seek employment in Malaysia. Two years later he returned home penniless and unable to pay off his debt.
"At the time I thought I would fall. To think that we couldn't survive that storm almost made me break down," he recalls. Years of deliberation over his life made him move to HCM City for an internship at a mechanics workshop.
The young farmer returned home in 2003. This time, the saints had not abandoned him. His business expanded and he was later able to open another new enterprise.
At the time, the high price of cooking fuels restricted households from using oil stoves.
"And, if we used electric cookers, the power was very dangerous to everyone. There are many raw materials such as sawdust, firewood and rice husks, but villagers did not know how to use them for cooking. So, I decided to make the most of them by inventing a new kind of cooker," Truong says.
In order to accomplish this, he decided to borrow money from other people. Even though many considered his idea to be insane, he was still determined to carry on with it.
However, he found the first step is always the hardest. Truong's first cooker was a failure due to design and quality errors. "I could not find a suitable type of clay to make the body of the cooker, it was terrible!" he added. But he did not give up.
In 2004, he rolled up his sleeves and searched for new material. The results three years later were incredible - his product solved most of his problems. "The cooker can not be broken by a single thump from a hammer and it can bear a heat of up to 1,300oC. I named the kind of clay I used to make the cooker ‘CL13'. That is the day I made the cooker," he says proudly.
Those who have had a chance to use his cooker have given positive reviews and encouraged him to continue his work to make more improvements.
In August 2008 Truong received a certificate from the Viet Nam Institute for Building Materials for his invention. Nguyen Dinh Nghi, deputy director of the institute, says, "I highly appreciate Truong's creative spirit. I cannot believe a farmer who finished in Grade Six could have come up with such an exciting discovery."
In 2009, Truong's environmentally-friendly cooker received third prize at the Farming Technique Creativity competition.
Truong continues to be passionate about his ongoing project: "The tripod of this cooker is made from iron, making it firm and safe to use. Its body is designed solely to keep the heat. It is very easy to use and does not use much firewood.
It can be used outside in the rain. The smoke is reduced considerably and you can save up to nearly 50 per cent of combustible fuels in comparison with other cookers. The pollution risk is much lesser."
The awards and recognition have meant that the diligent farmer who bravely borrowed money to start his project, now sees his cookers selling out in the domestic market. There is even an export market to Laos.
"Recently, I have received many orders from Ha Noi, as my cookers are used as a warming device for the older generation in cold winters. Of course, they have air conditioning, but many still prefer my product," he says.
In the same year, Truong established Truong Giang Limited Company, which provides a stable income for more than 20 local workers. "Each large cooker is priced at VND1,300,000 (US$65) and small one is VND900,000 ($45). Each year, I sell 60,000 cookers to the market," he adds.
"In the years to come, I will improve the quality and lower the price of my products to meet customers' demand. I also have other projects in mind and I'm working on them at the moment. Watch this space!" he laughs. — VNS