by Nguyen Thuy
|Nguyen Van Thiet, the first grower of Budda's hand fruit in Dac So Commune, holds the best-looking fruit in his orchard. — VNS Photo Nguyen Thuy
HA NOI — The lives of many farmers in Ha Noi's Dac So Commune in Hoai Duc District have changed thanks to the money they make from selling Phat thu (Buddha's Hand fruit). As the Tet (Lunar New Year) nears, growers busy cutting the fruit predict a bumper crop.
Phat thu, or finger citron, is the unusual, finger-shaped fruit that resembles the hand of Buddha. Trees yield all-year round, but is sought-after about a month before Tet for putting on altars in homes and pagodas.
The bright yellow fruit symbolises happiness, longevity and good fortune.
Situated near the Day river, Dac So Commune has alluvial land highly suited to Phat thu cultivation. Nguyen Van Hung, 27, recalled that the plots were planted out with vegetables, but they brought little income. "Most residents changed to this fruit because it has far more value," he said.
"With five sao of land , equivalent to 18,000 square metres, of plant cultivated I expect to make VND200 million (US$9,302) from selling this year," he said.
He added that he decided to quit his job as a printing technician with a monthly salary of VND5 million ($232) to start growing the plant two years ago.
"I saw the lives of many local growers change after planting the fruit. They built big houses and many are now rich," he said. "I also want to have a better life. My parents borrowed VND300 million ($14,000) from a bank to invest in the cultivation and I paid back the loan last month. After Tet , I intend to expand cultivation.
"I believe that I will soon have money to build a big house," the young man smiled. "All the plant growers are very grateful to Nguyen Van Thiet, 57, who first planted Buddha's Hand fruit here 13 years ago," Hung said.
Thiet said that years ago he worked as a fruit seller in Ha Noi markets and made little money, even though he woke up early and worked hard. "I realised that people like to buy Buddha's Hand fruit for much higher prices than for mangoes or other edible fruit," he said.
"At that time I thought that if I could grow the plant myself, it would fetch high earnings. I searched for information from other sellers," he said. "In 2002, I travelled to northernmost Ha Giang Province to buy seedlings and learn how to grow them. I had to borrow VND73 million ($3,400) from relatives and friends to invest in seedlings, fertiliser and pesticides.
"I was worried so much because the seedling seller told me that growing the plant would be a risk, that I would earn no money if the trees bore few fruit, and that growing it was not easy," Thiet said. "But I decided to take the risk," he said.
Thiet harvested a crop after 20 months of cultivation. "I made enough from selling the first crop to pay the loan and cover other expenses," he said.
Thiet said that he now has an annual income of VND500 million ($23,000) to VND600 million ($28,000), excluding all costs for fertiliser and pesticides and rent for land, from his 1.6 acres orchard.
"Three years after I planted the trees, I had enough money to build a three-storey house and five years later, I constructed another ancient-style timber house," he said. "The income is 10 times higher than what I earned as a fruit seller."
However, it is not always easy to earn high income from Buddha-Hand fruit and some growers are struggling with their loans. Nguyen Van Doan, 48, mortgaged his land-use red book to a bank to borrow VND300 million ($14,000) three years ago.
"I rented land to grow the plant, however the land is obviously not suitable because the plants grow badly," Doan said. "And maybe my technical knowledge is insufficient. I am struggling with paying bank interest every month, but I will not quit and I will rent more suitable land to grow the special fruit," he said.
Doan is planting Canh orange trees together with the Buddha's Hand to get more income. The thin and tired man let out a sigh when looking at the fruit on neighbouring plots and resumed his work.
"To earn high income, growers must spend a lot of effort to tend the crops. They must love, understand and take care of the plants every day," Thiet said, adding that farmers must be meticulous in watering and fertilising to grow the best-looking fruit.
"Even though growing the plant requires patience and hard-working and seems risky, I believe that the number of plant growers in the commune is increasing thanks to its high income," he said.
Nguyen Thi Huong, chairperson of Dac So Commune, agreed with Thiet. "In 2010 we had 50 hectares of the plant under cultivation and the land doubled in 2013," Huong said, adding that 600 out of 1,100 local households in the commune now grew Buddha's Hand trees.
Huong added that some growers were unsuccessful, largely becuase their land was not suitable. "They are now hiring land in neighboring communes, including Yen So and Phuong Cach communes, to grow the plant," she said.
Dac So's Phat thu is delivered across the country. Huong said cultivation was quickly expanding because supply had still not met demand.
And, for those wondering, Buddha's Hand fruit, a type of citrus, is not edible. However, it does make a potent cough medicine. — VNS