|Barking up the right tree: Hoang Van Truong, has successfully cultivated tram huong (Aquilaria crassna) trees, providing stable jobs for more than 100 local workers. — VNS Photo Huynh Van My
After climbing his way out of debt, Hoang Van Truong made a living for his family and others by advising a foreign-invested firm on how to cultivate wood for perfume and incense. Huynh Van My and Ha Nguyen report.
A poor farmer left his wife to go deep into the forest to dig for gold, and for this he was imprisoned. His pursuit for affluence, however, never died. When he was released, he continued to dig, but this time for "brown gold" from scented wood trees.
The farmer is Hoang Van Truong, 52, who has successfully developed the cultivation of tram (Aquilaria crassna), a kind of aromatic wood tree.
A. crassna sometimes produces resinous heartwood known variously as agarwood or aloeswood. This highly valuable wood, is fragrant and is used to make perfume and incense. It is also an ingredient for the pharmaceutical industry.
Truong, in the central province of Quang Nam's Tien Canh Village of Tien Phuoc District, is now in charge of creating and tapping trees in a special zone of 15,000ha, for the Van Danh joint venture company (JV).
Under an agreement signed with the JV, if five per cent of the trees died, Truong would have to compensate at the rate of US$50 per tree.
"Fortunately, after three years, trees that had died made up for less than three per cent. I was very happy to harvest our recent first yield, exploiting 200 trees which yielded significant quantity of fragrant wood," he said.
La Duong, deputy director of the JV, said Truong was the best person who can grow A. crassna trees that he had been seeking across the country.
Truong recalled after he completed his service with the army in 2000, he returned home to marry a local girl. At that time, they were very poor.
"To earn a living, I had to work as a porter seeking the scented wood for others. After three years, I saved some money to start my own business," he said.
He bought a garden of A. crassna trees from his neighbour to raise and tap these. After several years, the trees' trunks that had been damaged by shells and bomb fragments, yielded the first amount of scented wood, and he could make a profit of VND5 million to buy more trees.
He nailed iron pieces into the trees and pumped into it a certain mixture, hoping to harvest fragrant wood after three years.
Despite all his efforts, after 10 years, the wood's price fell severely, leaving him in heavy debt.
He then turned towards digging gold. This resulted in him being jailed for 18 months for using five kilos of cyanuric acid to sift for gold.
After being released from the prison, with only VND150,000 left, he and his wife purchased cinnamon bark and sold for traders from China.
"We did not have adequate money to buy cinnamon, so I had to leave my wife as security. After a year, we saved a larger amount to reinvest in my A. crassna farming," Truong recalled.
In early 2012, he was invited to work at the Van Danh JV company which included people from Laos and China.
"After seeing my wood samples, that I had created and treated at my workshop, they asked me the technique I used to create the product and then set conditions for co-operation. I agreed," said Truong.
Several days later, the JV representatives invited him to Ha Noi and the JV's farms in Laos's Vientiane for a fact-finding tour. After that, "we signed a framework agreement," he recalled.
Under the agreement, in July 2012, Truong and a number of his workers travelled to Laos to treat 200 eight-year-old A. crassna trees. After a period of three months, they took samples to transfer these to the JV's headquarters in Kunming for approval.
By late 2013, he was asked to treat another 100 trees.
Seeing the good results, in 2014, the JV asked him to treat 10,000 trees more.
"All these also yielded good results," Truong said.
In February this year, an official agreement was signed between Truong and the JV under which he was to tap the scented substance from more than 10,000 trees and insert chemicals into the trunks of 20,000 others.
"My workers (all are Vietnamese) have to work on 1.5 million trees, aged between eight and twelve years, in Vientiane.
"We are very happy because from now on, we will have a stable job. On an average, each worker earns between VND7-7.5 million per month," said Truong.
Worker Huynh Van Hoa said he did not have to worry about anything because working for Van Danh JV, he and his fellow workers have the benefit of a house to live in and daily meals to eat.
"Anyone falling sick is paid VND125,000 per day," said Hoa.
In the 2005-06, Truong had led a number of workers to grow A. crassna at gardens in Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Ha Tinh and Nghe An.
"The number of trees that could not survive was just 10 percent, so more and more owners kept hiring us," he recalled.
He created stable jobs for many workers in Tien Phuoc District, helping them escape hunger and poverty.
The deputy chairman of Tien Canh People's Committee, Tran Van Diep, said over the past 15 years, Truong had trained hundreds of skilled workers.
"Thanks to Truong, many of our youngsters have stable jobs, compared with what they did before when they used to work for others in neighbouring provinces," Diep said, adding that as a result, social problems have actually come down significantly in his village.
Last month, Truong completed a workshop to distil the A. crassna attar at Tien Phuoc Dâistrict, creating jobs for another 60-70 workers.
The workshop was owing to the district that supplied him land to build the workshop and Japan's JICA which contributed a part of the capital investment.
"The most attractive part of the project is that the workshop will not only treat 20 tonnes of waste left from 200 workshops which used to cause heavy pollution in the district but will now be used to manufacture crassna essential oil and also incense that sells very well in the market," said Truong.
He said he visited Thailand to learn how to make incense.
"I will popularise the technique to make incense among my workers and encourage them to grow A. crassna trees to develop their economy."
Truong is now chairman of the Tien Phuoc District's Tram Huong Association. — VNS