Viet Nam News
LONG AN — “After seven years of development, I can proudly state that Thai farmers now cannot compete with limes from the Chanh Việt Company,” said Nguyễn Văn Hiển, the owner of the largest lime plantation in the Mekong Delta.
Born into a poor family, Hiển had to overcome a number of challenges when leaving the central province of Quảng Nam to study in HCM City. Upon graduation he worked at the HCMC Department of Construction for five years before establishing a private construction company.
On a visit to Thạnh Lợi Ward, Bến Lức District, in Long An Province, Hiển and his friends decided to buy 20ha of isolated farming land along National Highway 2.
“At the time, we planned to build a retreat for us to gather at the weekend. However, eventually, we decided to do something with the land,” Hiển told the Lao Động (Labour) newspaper.
At first, he aimed to plant dragon fruit then gave up when estimating the high cost of investment. Hiển consulted experts from HCM Cty’s Agriculture & Forestry University for a new planting direction. Coincidentally, he met Prof. Võ Tòng Xuân, principal of Nam Cần Thơ University as well as other leading agricultural experts in Long An Province and the Mekong Delta.
“They recommended that we plant limes using organic methods to increase the products’ value. Therefore, we applied European processing standards from the beginning, aiming to compete with foreign companies,” he said.
The company has invested about US$7 million into the farm and has no plans of stopping. After seven years, an isolated area has turned into a 150-ha lime plantation directed by the Chanh Việt Company with its Chavi brand going far beyond the Vietnamese border.
Why Thailand and not us?
Organic planting methods sound simple but created a lot of difficulties for Hiển’s company. Approaching a partner who has experience in exporting goods to EU markets was the first step. To be accepted, they had to send several lime samples to Europe for quality tests.
Another issue was the variablity in size and shapes of lime since they were planted organically. Only 30 to 40 per cent of fresh limes qualified to be exported to Europe.
“We lose a lot of money if we sell the rest at a domestic price. Therefore, we have to come up with ways to process them,” said Hiển.
The idea of manufacturing products from lime was approved by Prof. Võ Tòng Xuân and other agricultural experts.
The cooperation between science and agriculture was started with lime-based essential oil which contains more than 20 anti-cancer agents. Hiển ordered Kha Chấn Tuyền and his partners from HCM City Agriculture & Forestry University to research how to obtain oil from lime peel.
“According to our survey, there is an absence of pure lime oil extract in the market since most current products are mixed with artificial chemicals and flavours,” he stressed.
Lime peel can be used for oil, what about the flesh? After several experiments, Chanh Việt Company gradually introduced variable processed products including lime juice, lime powder, dried lime, lime seasoning powder and salt with lime.
Besides Europe, Chanh Việt Company’s products will be sent to difficult markets such as Japan, Germany, France, some Asian countries and the US in the near future.
Profit was not Hiển’s goal when investing in lime, he said.
“We are passionate about agriculture, so money is not a big deal. At present, we can live well with the profits from selling lime. Of course, we can earn more working in HCM City. However, our mission is beyond money: to make quality products for the national agriculture sector. That’s why we chose the name Chanh Việt (Việt Nam’s Lime),” Hiển added.
Also, he refused some cooperation invitations from China since the partners asked to increase the products’ storage time which means that presevatives will be added during production.
“We can sell less but never sacrifice our values,” Hiển said.
Additionally, the biggest motivation for Hiển is Vietnamese pride.
“Thai people purchase Việt Nam’s fruits at low price, process them and export to Malaysia or Singapore with higher value. Every time, I asked myself “Why can Thai people do it, but we cannot?”
This question became Hiển’s drive to improve Việt Nam’s agricultural values, starting with a lime. — VNS