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Jungle people take herb home for harvest

Update: May, 26/2013 - 04:06
Local knowledge: Y H'Lang bends a dang sam herb to climb up on a cassava. This herb can be intercropped with cassava.

Ethnic residents in Mang Ri Commune no longer need to traipse through snake-infested jungles to cultivate the medicinal herb which is helping them to escape poverty. Pioneering farmers have successfully planted it in the back garden. Huynh Van My reports.

There's no longer any need for the Xo Dang ethnic residents in Mang Ri Commune to bring their hoes and bamboo baskets into the snake infested jungle to search for medicinal plants.

Today, the Xo Dang people of Tu Mo Rong District in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum can make easy money from farming dang sam (a kind of "wide ginseng) in their gardens.

This plant, which is easy to grow and care for, is helping families to escape from poverty.

Also known as Codonopsis Javanica, it has edible fruit and roots, and the leaves can be used for soup and fried food.

According to the Dictionary of Viet Nam Medicinal Plant by Dr Vo Van Chi (Medical Publishing House, 1997), Viet Nam's dang sam can be used to treat asthenia, fatigue, loss of appetite, lung damage and other diseases.

It has also been listed in the Viet Nam Red Book since 1996.

While crops of this medicinal plant have become depleted in the wild, Xo Dang residents have found ways to grow and domesticate them.

Mang Ri is on the southern edge of Ngoc Linh, a mountain range reaching nearly 2,600m high. Like many other communes around the mountain range, Mang Ri is a land of medicinal plants, including the famous Ngoc Linh ginseng which was discovered in 1974. This mountain range is also the cradle of many other medicinal plants, including dang sam.

Sharing the same fate as Ngoc Linh ginseng, overexploitation decimated wild dang sam about five years ago.

Becoming farmers

At around 7am, Y H'Lang gets to work on a 1,000sq.m plot of land on a hill behind Pu Ta Village.

"As the garden is close to home, I can go to work early. The whole village is busy cultivating dang sam," said the 45-year-old woman, who was the first person to start a medicinal herb garden in Mang Ri.

In 2006, she and her husband recognised the plant had economic potential, but it was becoming increasingly hard to find. The couple took a trip to the forest to find seedlings to plant in their garden. Realising how easy it was to grow, they decided to borrow money from a social welfare bank to buy seeds to expand their garden to almost 1ha.

In addition to growing the plant from seeds, people in Mang Ri also use their tubers. H'Lang was the first person to grow the plant from tubers in Mang Ri.

She takes the big tubers to sell, and leaves the smaller ones for them to continue to develop so she can harvest them next year.

H'Lang said she collected more than 150kg of tubers last year, and expects she will double her harvest this year.

"Thanks to growing this plant, my family has become prosperous and my three children can attend school," she said.

Sun-soaked: Villager A Xin dries herbs, ready for sale later. — VNS Photos Huynh Van My

The plant fetches a good price. A trader, Cao Thi Gam, said each kilogramme of fresh roots goes for VND100,000, while the dried ones are sold at VND500,000 (about US$23).

"This plant has become popular in recent years, and is transported to HCM City and Ha Noi. Although local people have grown it successfully for a few years, our cultivation is still not enough for the market," said Nguyen Sau, a local trader.

The Mang Ri people are excited about the popularity of their crop. A Phu, chief of Long Lai hamlet, cheerfully said: "People in Mang Ri began to grow it in 2009. Our hamlet has 34 households and they all have at least one medicinal herb garden that supplies them with a stable income."

A Xin from Pu Ta hamlet said the advantage of this plant is different parts of it can be harvested all year round.

"Villagers can harvest up to 300kg of fresh tubers from each 1.000sq.m plot each year," Xin said.

Determined to conserve rare medicinal herbs, Kon Tum Province has taken concrete steps to help local ethnic minorities to realise their dream of becoming rich from the forests.

Lam Quang Huy, vice chairman of the Mang Ri Commune People's Committee, said: "About eight years ago, local people started to plant the herb in their gardens. One of its advantages is that it does not affect other crops."

"We recognised that this plant could help people escape poverty, so in 2011, we decided that 396 households in the commune should have a 1,000sq.m garden each for herb cultivation. With help from the district, that area was increased in 2012, and some households are cultivating up to 2,000sq.m. This year we've encouraged people to expand, and I believe this can be achieved because this plant can be intercropped with cassava," Huy said.

Local people have stopped clearing forests and are actively growing more medicinal plants.

"Mang Ri is the most noteworthy model for growing herbs in Tu Mo Rong District," said Hoang Dung, chief of the district Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

"Local people have found developed cultivation techniques, and every household has a medicinal herb garden. This is a good example for other communes in the district to learn from following the authorities' decision to help reduce poverty for people in Tu Mo Rong." — VNS

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