|A farmer from the Nam Loc collaboration group visits her day thia canh (gymnema sylvestre) field in Hai Hau District's Hai Loc Commune in the northern province of Nam Dinh. — Photo courtesy of HELVESTAS
by Vu Lan Dung
NAM DINH (VNS) — A new cooperation model in farming and trading medicinal plants has brought initial results in the northern province of Nam Dinh , where resources from the public sector (government and donor), private sector and from different communities are used for joint activities.
Farmer Nguyen Thi Suu, who lives in the province's Hai Hau District's Hai Loc Commune, is among the first applying the model.
She is oblivious of the freezing winter around her as she fertilizes her day thia canh (gymnema sylvestre) field and is only focused on the upcoming harvest.
Suu started planting day thia canh six years ago. Her family owns 360 square meters of land that grows medicinal plants, and harvests thrice per year on average, which generates an income of VND4.5 million (US$214) each time.
"Compared with rice planting, medicinal product planting has doubled our profits and does not take much time," she said.
Since planting the field in 2013, Suu has earned more than VND15 million ($714). Along with 18 other households in the commune, her family has seen their annual income rise, with significant contribution from the farming of medicinal plants.
Their life as farmers in the Hai Loc and Hai Toan Communes changed after receiving support from the BioTrade project funded by the Swiss Government through the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). The programme is also supported by the Vietnamese governmental agencies, notably the National Institute of Medicinal Materials (NIMM) under the Ministry of Health.
The three-year project was implemented by the HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation from 2012 to 2014 in the Hai Toan and Hai Loc Communes. Farmers transformed their paddy fields, which had not earned them much, into two cultivation zones for the two medicinal plants.
The Hai Toan's group has 28 participating households, with five hectares allocated for planting dinh lang (polyscias fruticosa), while another Hai Loc group has 19 members, with three hectares set aside for planting day thia canh.
Mai Van Quyet, the vice chairman of the Hai Hau People's Committee, says the district has used a total area of 647 hectares for growing medicinal plants, mostly dinh lang and day thia canh. He added that the plants have reaped economic benefits for the local people, contributing to their socio-economic development.
"The implementation of the project has drawn the participation of HELVETAS, NIMM, experts from enterprises, farmers, and local management agencies. This is an effective approach to the process of meeting targets for the project," he stated.
"At the moment, the district has harvested 15 hectares of medicinal plants, following GACP-WHO standards. Two collaboration groups currently operate in the area, which are necessary requirements for production and consumption that helps boost the farmers' incomes."
The Hai Hau District also offers many good conditions for expanding production and processing medicinal plants. Its ground water resources meet hygiene requirements and its soil has heavy metal content below a certain threshold. These result in favourable conditions for the production of medicinal plants, based on GACP-WHO standards.
Vu Van Trien, head of its agriculture office, said the district has successfully built a closed production process, thanks to the support rendered by HELVETAS, NIMM, Traphaco and the Nam Duoc enterprises.
"The district has 647 hectares with more than 20 species of natural ingredients, including 172 hectares of dinh lang. The total revenue generated by fresh dinh lang will be VND910 million ($43,300) per hectare per year. With a harvested area of 45 hectares, its profit will be VND40 billion ($1.9 million) per year," he pointed out.
Trien noted that day thia canh brings in an income of VND423 million ($20,140) per hectare per year, and its total revenue will reach VND6.3 billion ($300,000). "Planting medicinal plants contributes to stabilising the life of farmers. Many households have grown wealthy through planting and selling medicinal plants, especially dinh lang," he added.
Under the scope of the Biotrade project, HELVETAS has supported the Hai Hau People's Committee to develop its plan for farming medicinal plants until 2020, with its orientation aimed at 2030.
In 2014, the collaboration group of the Hai Loc Commune reported an average income of 423.8 million per hectare, which is triple the amount of returns offered by rice planting. Therefore, the total area brought under day thia canh plantation was increased to 8.2 hectares.
Lam Thanh Van, the head of the group, said the medicinal plant was cultivated separately by households and the project helped them localise it in the area. It was harvested after six to seven months, and harvesting 360 sq.m brought in VND15 to 16 million per year ($714 to 761).
"The output for each year has been growing because farmers have much more experience planting day thia canh. The Nam Duoc company is committed to purchasing all products at a negotiated price.
Meanwhile, the dinh lang planted in 2013, will only be harvested in 2017. Farmers in the collaboration group of Hai Toan were taught the techniques and given practical training for all processes, from seed selection to transport and treatment under the supervision of HELVETAS and Traphaco.
Tran Khac Luong, chairman of Hai Toan People's Committee, said based on market information; the communes still believes there will be a market for the products during the next three to four years.
"The localisation of day thia canh in one area has helped people get regular work and raise their incomes. Earlier, farmers used to plant it spontaneously, but now they cooperate with each other and find it more convenient to sell products," he said.
Farmer Nguyen Thi Ha had planted dinh lang trees more than a decade ago, and sold them for thousands of dong per kilogram. When informed about the project, she joined the group from the first day because "it earns more economic profits for my family".
"There are many advantages of joining the group. We are instructed on the ways for planting and caring for trees by following GACP-WHO standards. They also help us sell products to the Traphaco company at a price higher than what the market offers," the 42-year-old farmer said. — VNS