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New ’ginseng’ revitalizes highlands commune

Update: August, 22/2017 - 09:21
A Thuấn takes care of his ginseng garden in Ngoc Lay Commune, Kon Tum Province.-- Photo
Viet Nam News

KON TUM -- The early onset of the monsoon has prompted ethnic minority residents of Ngọc Lây Commune in the Central Highlands to look for faster ways to cultivate đương quy.

The commune is located in Tu Mơ Rông District, Kon Tum Province.

The herb produced here is different from the renowned Ngọc Linh ginseng, developed both in Nam Trà My District in Quảng Nam Province and in Kon Tum Province. While the Ngọc Linh ginseng is grown only in the forest, the đương quy (Angelica sinensis, commonly known as "female ginseng") is planted in gardens and cultivated as part of swidden agriculture, and even as a side-crop.

The commune, where the Ngoc Linh ginseng was first discovered in 1973, is planting the đương quy, a crop that has developed fast across Tu Mơ Rông District.

First crop

A Thuấn, an ethnic minority teacher in Đắk King Village, gets up at dawn to water his đương quy field before going to school.

"Even though it is the rainy season, the plants need to be watered regularly for them to grow fast," he said.

A Thuấn is among the few people able to make a decent income from đương quy, a relatively new variety that is bigger sized.

The đương quy previously grown in the area were small-sized and of low yield, and therefore fetched cheap prices.

In 2016, the Hà Nội Medical Herbs Centre provided 1,500 new đương quy seedlings to Ngọc Lây residents. This new seedlings suited local land conditions, so they grew rapidly.

According to the centre’s experts, new seedlings can only be harvested after 18- 24 months, but A Thuấn’s đương quy roots are ready for the market after nine months. In the first crop last year, he sold out 300kg at a price of VNĐ70,000 per kilo, earning VNĐ21 million.    

“Ngọc Lây Commune’s soil is suitable for growing đương quy, but it requires the farmer to take good care of it,” he said.

Emulating A Thuấn, his neighbour, A Biên decided to sell 200kg of one-year-old đương quy roots.

“With the new variety, one kilo of đương quy root equals two to five bulbs, against 10 bulbs from the old variety, so it is ready for harvesting after a year.

“I hope that more and more local residents can see my results and start growing this female ginseng.”

Highway 40B, running to the south of Quảng Nam Province, was expanded several years ago, helping the Xơ Đăng ethnic minority residents of Ngọc Lây Commune access the “outside world.”

Before the large road was built, their villages nestled in the immense forests of Ngọc Linh Mountain are always covered in smoky mist. Even when they lack arable land, the Xơ Đăng people never destroy the forests and have always protected it. The new crop is changing local lives significantly.

Now, local residents are proud of the green fields of đương quy. One woman said her family had started this crop last December, and now, their field has 10,000 đương quy plants.

“I planned to sell the roots after two years, many traders have visited my field already,” she said.

In Tu Bông Village, 26 of 32 households are growing this ginseng and expect to harvest their first crop early next year.

Many ethnic minority households have decided to plant đương quy on their paddy fields. Knowing that the plant develops well on  moisturized land, they have begun planting đương quy on terraced paddy fields near the stream, creating favourable conditions for watering during the dry season.

Post-harvest rice fields next to water sources are also being reserved for đương quy cultivation.

Some farmers also planted the root in the shade of coffee trees with good results.

Growing đương quy with coffee has been a boon to many farmers. Farmer Y Nheng said commune residents did not have much arable land and access to forests was restricted.

“Growing đương quy on coffee-growing land could help us use the land fully,” she said.

They also planted ginseng after harvesting rice on terraced fields, because decayed rice straw is a source of good nutrition source for đương quy, Y Nheng said."Decayed roots of rice and rice straw help the plant develop and make the bulbs bigger," Y Nheng said.

In the next few months, the Xơ Đăng people in Ngọc Lây Commune will be harvesting đương quy.

At current average prices of VNĐ70,000 per kilo, everyone is waiting for a bumper harvest.

Notably, this year, most farmers in the commune are able to manage seedlings by themselves. Some of the poorest families in the commune were given free seedlings.

Another farmer Y Linh, said that her family had spent VNĐ 2.5 million to buy 2,500 đương quy seedlings. She said that she would retain the best plants, waiting for their seeds. “Next year, I won’t need to go to Kon Tum City to buy seeds,” she said.

Nguyễn Văn Đăng, Chairman of Ngọc Lây People’s Committee, said this variety was suitable for local conditions, so authorities planned to expand cultivation area. It is estimated that the commune now has about 15,5ha of đương quy.

He said that although the commune had signed a product consumption contract with a trading company in Kon Tum Province, "We still hope authorities at both district and provincial levels promote consumption of this precious medicinal herb."-- VNS


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