|More than a handful: Le Thanh Tung examines one of the buckets in which he breeds crickets. — VNS Photo Hoang Tuan
by Hoang Tuan
When Le Thanh Tung started out, all he had was the strength of his youth and a strong will to beat poverty.
The 36-year-old farmer who lives at Tan Phu Trung Commune in Cu Chi District, HCM City, owns a 700-sq.m. cricket farm that churns billions of dong every year. A feat he achieved with sheer determination and bare hands.
Daring to get rich
Meeting Tung for the first time, one will not believe that the man with sunburnt skin and informal mannerisms is the owner of a most profitable farm in the southern area. But, Tung's is an inspiring story. To reach this height, he has had to tread difficult paths and overcome several obstacles. However, he has never been the one to bow down to a bitter defeat.
Tung's family was very poor. His parents had many children but hardly any land for cultivation to earn a livelihood. So, after finishing the fifth grade, Tung left school. He was employed to tend ducks.
Growing up in poverty, Tung was determined to get rich in his native land.
When Tung was 18 years old, he borrowed capital from his relatives to raise 300 ducks. But all of them were hit by a bird flu epidemic and died after one night.
Giving up the idea of raising ducks, Tung leased land from a local resident to grow vegetables. When the vegetables grew enough to be sold, the landowner wanted the plot back as he saw that Tung's vegetables were really good. Tung was again disappointed as new debts cropped up even before he could pay off his old one.
He started working as a mason and worked hard while still dreaming of enriching himself.
Once Tung was watching a television programme on unique dishes of insects, including crickets. At restaurants in other countries, they were expensive food. He thought why not raise crickets and sell them to restaurants.
Next day, Tung started searching for crickets. Every night he caught dozens of crickets and put them in two large pots borrowed from his mother. Crickets eat some kind of vegetables and a litle of water. However, his crickets kept dying as Tung did not have enough technical support to raise them. Tung approached the Cu Chi District Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and other concerned offices in the city asking them to share the know-how with him, but everyone refused with a shake of their heads because no one had researched and applied technique to raise crickets in artificial environment.
|Crunch time: Tung's crickets reach the market as a healthy snack. — VNS Photo Doan Tung
Despite losing much and gaining nothing, Tung's family and friends peersuaded him to give up his idea, while local residents called him "idiotic". Tung thought if a man wanted to enrich himself, he must be a little venturesome.
"There was no reason why I could not raise some small crickets," said Tung.
Tung worked as a mason during the day, so he could earn money to pay off his debt, and caught crickets at night. Between sleepless nights, Tung took care of his crickets in his garden. At last, after a year of thorough research, Tung found out why his crickets died, how to feed them, and help them reproduce.
Finally, by understanding the natural life of crickets, Tung managed to decrease the number of dead crickets. But there was another obstacle: finding a market for his product.
Every day, Tung would cycle all over the district and, even, to neighbouring provinces to promote his product. But, his product was quite strange for most residents, so only a few agreed to buy. Tung managed to cook different dishes with crickets, including crickets fried with flour, crickets roasted with salt, crickets fried with chilli, and crickets cooked with pepper. All of the dishes were sold for cheap to attract customers.
Tung started receiving more and more orders. After 10 years of relentless work, Tung has become an experienced cricket farmer, a famous cricket cook, and the owner of a large farm with more than 800,000 crickets.
"The secret of my success is patience and the determination not to give up my dream," said Tung.
Tung explained that small crickets are sold separately as breeding crickets for a price of VND5,000 (US$0.23) per insect. Grown-up crickets are sold at VND1 million ($47) per kilogram, and some low-quality ones are sold as feed for pet fish and birds.
Tung also created a high-grade wine with crickets soaked in it. He also opened a restaurant with insect specialities.
Every year, Tung's farm earns a profit of more than VND1 billion ($47,600).
Even after becoming the owner of a large farm, Tung does not forget how he reached there. Today, his happiness is in sharing his experiences with young people who want to set up their own business of raising crickets.
Tung's next big dream is to export his crickets to international markets. — VNS