|Due diligence: Farmers harvest ginseng in a garden in Nam Tra My District's Tra Linh Commune.
Up in the mountains of Quang Nam Province the ginseng plant's roots have become a treasured natural remedy. Those who cultivate the plants can earn themselves a hefty living and preserve wild plants at the same time. Hoai Nam reports.
Noc Mang Lung Village in Tra Linh Commune, located on a mountain slope and blessed with cool weather all year round, has become prosperous with Ngoc Linh ginseng farming in recent years.
Nguyen Van Luong, of the Xo Dang ethnic community, has grown 4,000 ginseng (Panax vietnamensis or Vietnamese ginseng) plants, of which 3,000 have a six-year growth period, and has earned VND800 million (US$38,000) from selling 25kg of the latest ginseng crop.
|Grabbing hold: A seedling takes five years to grow roots with the highest level of nutrients.
The villages in Tra Nam and Tra Cang communes in Nam Tra My District in the central province of Quang Nam also have three major ginseng farms, spreading over 70ha.
"Our lives have changed so much compared with previous decades, when we lived in poverty with shortage of food and poor houses. Rice farming on the slopes provided food that lasted just a few months after harvest," Luong said.
"I had to walk through jungles to dig up ginseng for sale, but it soon became exhausted with excessive exploitation by the local people. I changed my mind and started growing the plant in my garden," he said.
He said his garden now brought in a revenue of at least VND30 billion (US$1.4 million), with each kilogram of ginseng selling for VND50 million ($2,300) in the market.
Most of the local people in the seven communes of the district now grow ginseng in their gardens, rather than searching the wild roots in jungles, as they did earlier.
However, 63 per cent of the 26,000- strong population is still destitute because of poor planning and poor post-harvest technology and knowhow for long-term ginseng development.
"I have known about ginseng for 35 years, but I improved my life after cultivating it in my garden. It's actually a precious plant that can bring good income for the poorest district," Ho Van Du, a farmer in Tra Linh commune, said.
"Most of the villagers in the area now understand the role and benefits of ginseng cultivation on the mountain slopes. But it's still a short-term vision as we need a strategy for updated technology, marketing and developing sapling nurseries and gene conservation," Du said.
He said some villagers sold young ginseng plants as they needed money for food and leisure in harvest periods.
He said an early harvest would only produce poor-quality ginseng that would be sold cheap.
|Green thumb: Ho Van Du cares for his ginseng garden.
Building a brand
The district's people's committee has planned ginseng development over 15,000ha in seven mountainous communes, and a national ginseng brand promotion as well as eco-tourism services in the 2016-25 period.
"We have proposed an investment of VND9 trillion (US$429 million) in seven projects and different phases of ginseng development. It includes development of infrastructure, pharmaceutical industry, essential oils and cosmetics, as well as tonic drinks and capsules from ginseng," Chairman of the district's people's committee Ho Quang Buu said.
"The plan would develop the poorest district as major centres of Vietnamese ginseng and draw investment to farm processing zones and tourism services," Buu said.
He said a 90km-long road network would connect ginseng gardens in the district, processing zones and tourism sites in the district and in the neighbouring Kon Tum Province.
Buu, who is the mastermind of the ginseng strategy, said its development would help push rapid afforestation in areas 1,500m above the sea level.
"Ginseng grows well in primary forests under the shade of different layers of large trees, humus, a cool temperature and long rainfall periods. The plant could grow well on a mass level, provided that 70 per cent of the terrain is covered by forests," he said, adding that the district has 42,000ha of well-preserved primary forests.
The chairman said the plan encouraged the local people to speed up afforestation as a condition for ginseng productivity and quality.
"We will also designate three communes – Tra Linh, Tra Nam and Tra Cang – as major centres of gene conservation, seedling centres and processing zones on a total area of 12,000ha," he said.
"Our plan hopes to bring multiple benefits for the local people from forest protection, in accordance with ginseng development. It means that the environment will be naturally protected thanks to ginseng cultivation," he said.
The chairman said poor road connectivity limited the development of the district and other provinces. The district is connected to the provincial capital Tam Ky City via 100km of bad roads.
|The hills are alive: A section of primary forest in Nam Tra My District. The district aims to become a major producer of Vietnamese ginseng. — VNS Photos Cong Thanh
Mass investment needed
Truong Cong Thang, a researcher of Ngoc Linh ginseng, said it was a valuable brand name for Viet Nam.
"Ginseng was found in the Ngoc Linh Mountain area, bordering Quang Nam and the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum in 1968, and was named after the mountain," Thang said.
"However, there is yet to be investment in mass production and industrial processing of ginseng, as in Korea, China, Canada and the United States," he said.
"I make sure that the Ngoc Linh ginseng has tonic ingredients as good as the Korean ginseng. But Viet Nam needs mass investment in Ngoc Linh ginseng production," he said, adding that the ginseng root could help a chronic patient to recover.
He said ginseng needed a five-year or longer period of cultivation before being harvested.
"Ginseng needs a very large area, huge investment and long period of cultivation for providing enough raw materials for the processing industry," Thang said.
He said the local people sometimes sold seed (VND25 million or $1,200 for 1,000 seed) rather than wait for the harvest over a five-year period.
The district's Chairman Ho Quang Buu said ginseng farms in the area were yet to supply enough material for the pharmaceutical industry, cosmetics, functional food and energy drinks, besides tea.
"That's the reason we have decided to prepare a long-term plan to develop the district as a major source of ginseng. We plan a 100ha sapling centre in the district to provide enough original plants to the local people," he said.
"We are also planning to supply ginseng seed to mountainous provinces nationwide for a mass production."
|Knot just a root: The roots do not resemble the human body like Korean ginseng, but Korean experts agree Vietnamese ginseng contains a high percentage of nutrients.
The province's Nam Tra My District and Hamyang County in the South Gyeongsang Province of South Korea signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on tourism, agriculture, conservation and the development of Ngoc Linh ginseng.
The production of ginseng cosmetics could bring greater value than by growing local ginseng.
Vietnamese ginseng has been preserved as a precious and endangered flora gene in the province, along with the poor man's ginseng or condonopsis, pepper, cinnamon and large rattan, as well as maize. — VNS
Vice-Chairman of Quang Nam People's Committee Le Van Thanh said the Ngoc Linh ginseng development project has been included in the province's planning process.
"The project will help conserve the gene of the original Ngoc Linh ginseng, while helping farmers and businesses to develop Vietnamese ginseng," Quang said.
"We hope to promote Ngoc Linh ginseng as a national brand and to promote it worldwide."
Vice-Director of the Ngoc Linh ginseng centre Trinh Minh Quy said ginseng cultivation would safeguard a precious gene of the country.
"The original gene source will produce the best quality of ginseng products, while providing stable income to the local people in poor mountainous areas," he said.
As scheduled, the ginseng plan will also involve two communes of Tu Mo Rong in Kon Tum on the other side of Ngoc Linh Mountain.
"It aims to grow ginseng on 30,000ha in seven communes of Nam Tra My District, and eight communes in Kon Tum from 2015 to 2025," Buu said.
"The plant will raise the hopes of more than 25,000 ethnic people of the Xo Dang, Ca Dong and Mo Nong communities and the region, with better incomes and living conditions," Ho Van Du, the ginseng farmer, said.
"It's the most profitable plant along with cinnamon and various medicinal herbs. We hope to grow ginseng seeds in mountainous areas nationwide, while protecting forests," Buu said. — VNS