Le Thi Hong speaks with members of a farmers' association from Gia Lai Province at her oil palm farm in HCM City's Hoc Mon District. — VNS Photo Phuoc Buu
HCM CITY — Oil palm trees have the potential of raising the incomes of poor farmers in disadvantageous areas, according to a HCM City resident who has planted more than 10ha of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) trees.
Le Thi Hong, a 62-year-old, grows oil palm trees for ornamental use, fruit, and seedlings.
"The trees can grow well without fertiliser. There are no diseases," she said. "I think the trees should be piloted as a new tree to improve the livelihood of farmers."
After visiting plantations where the trees are cultivated, she noticed that the trees could grow well if enough water was provided.
"They can grow well in wetland areas with a pH content of 3.8, so I think farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta could grow them," she said.
The trees are planted in a variety of areas, including wetland soil in the city's Hoc Mon District, soil with a high proportion of sand in Binh Duong Province, and soil with low water content in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.
"In the Delta, farmers can make earthen beds soaked with water to plant oil palm trees, as they raise fish in small ponds," Hong said.
Viet Nam has not developed oil palm as an industrial tree though the country's demand of palm oil is on the rise. The country imports around 500,000 tonnes of palm oil at a cost of US$500 million a year.
In 1971, a national programme to pilot a oil palm-tree planting programme was conducted in central Ha Tinh Province, where the trees grow well. But people cut them to have land to raise deer.
The success of Hong draws the attention of sectors, including agricultural authorities, farmers' associations, scientists and food oil manufacturers.
Nguyen Tri Ngoc, director of the Cultivation Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Cai Lan Oils and Fats Industries Company visited her farms.
Last weekend, the Chu Se District farmers' association from Gia Lai Province in the Central Highlands paid a visit to Hong's farms to ask for technology transfer and seedlings.
"We tried to find a tree that would result in high value as we have some free land and pepper, coffee and rubber cannot grow well," said Hoang Phuoc Binh, a member of the association.
"I think oil palm trees are best suited to free wetland areas around Adyun Ha reservoir as well as the customs of local ethnic minorities, who want trees that are easy to take care of," he added.
Hong's idea began 10 years ago, after a trip to Malaysia. "I saw that Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand could grow them well. Why not in Viet Nam?" she said. "We have a huge need for palm oil."
She and her husband Cao Van Trieu, who holds a doctorate in veterinary science, collected oil palm nuts from the Sai Gon Botanical Zoo in HCM City later to use for planting.
They are planning to use mechanical equipment to extract oil from the harvested palm fruit.
"We are trying to use extracting equipment made by local mechanics. But I want to emphasise that oil is not the only product from oil palm trees," she said.
Baggasse from the extractions could be used for cattle feed, while the tree branches could be material for plywood production. Leaves could be used to burn or fertilise materials.
Trees could be also sold for ornamental purposes to golf courses and households or used for pavement planting.
Hong, however, does not plan to earn an income from the trees, as she and her husband run their own company trading veterinary products with an annual turnover of VND700 billion ($33 million).
They want to act as a pioneer in planting oil palm trees, producing raw oil, developing seedlings and trading ornamental palm trees, and then transfer the results to farmers.
They are transferring planting technology from a company in central Thanh Hoa Province to develop oil palm farms in Laos.
"My husband and I love farmers. So we are not trying to make profit from palm oil, but rather want to help farmers with an industrial tree that could improve their livelihood," she said. —VNS