Southwestern man makes machines for coconut farmers

November 20, 2018 - 09:00

Born and bred in the Mekong Delta province of Sóc Trăng, Nghiêm Đại Thuận – one of Việt Nam’s 63 outstanding farmers this year – is familiar with coconuts.

Nghiêm Đại Thuận, head of Đức Mỹ Co-operative in the Mekong Delta province of Trà Vinh, with the coir-spinning machine he invented. — Photo
Viet Nam News

TRÀ VINH — Born and bred in the Mekong Delta province of Sóc Trăng, Nghiêm Đại Thuận – one of Việt Nam’s 63 outstanding farmers this year – is familiar with coconuts.

For a long time, he has envisioned a machine that could help process coconuts – a specialty of the southwesten region – to help farmers.

For hundreds of years, the farmers have processed coconuts manually, beating and splitting their husks or extracting the fibre from the husks.

Thuận, 42 years old, is now living in the Mekong Delta province of Trà Vinh, his wife’s hometown. He said the experience he gained at a mechanic workshop in HCM City helped him to realise his wish.

He said he moved from his hometown to HCM City when he was 18. With the savings from six years working at a mechanic shop in the city, he and his wife returned her hometown in Đức Mỹ Commune, Càng Long District, Trà Vinh Province, and started working on his dream of a coconut processing machine.

I brought bags of coir [a natural fibre extracted from the husk of a coconut] to mechanic workshops, asking them to make a coir spinning machine, but they refused.

“I did it by myself,” he said, adding that he learned welding and turning, a material removal process used to create rotational parts by cutting away unwanted material. The turning process requires a lathe, fixture and cutting tool.

“I designed and made models of the machines by myself too,” Thuận said. “In one year, I failed at least ten times.”

“I kept studying and reading and even visited localities to see how other agricultural machines work so I could improve my machine,” he said. “Until early 2013, when for the first time I made a machine that worked as I expected.”

The electrical machine had four pivots, and could produce more than 30kg of fine coconut fibre in eight hours. A manual worker could only produce 2-3kg in the same amount of time.

Lý Văn Khoa, a resident of Đức Mỹ Commune, said few people there thought Thuận could make such machine.

“We saw Thuận try and fail repeatedly,” Khoa said. “It seemed to be waste of time and money.”

“We were surprised and happy when Thuận successfully made the machine. He did a great job,” 63-year-old Khoa said, adding that thanks to Thuận’s machine, coconut farmers were earning more money.

In the past, a person could extract and spin a maximum of 4-5kg of coir daily, earning about VNĐ60,000-80,000 (US$2.60-3.50). Thuận’s machine can deal with 250-300kg daily.

Since 2013, Thuận has sold over 200 machines to farmers in the neighbouring provinces of Bến Tre, Vĩnh Long, Trà Vinh and An Giang. Each cost VNĐ60-70 million ($2,600 -3,000)

Thuận’s machine was named one of the outstanding rural products of Trà Vinh Province in 2013.

The coir is used in products such as floor mats, doormats, brushes and mattresses.

In 2014, Thuận established a co-operative specialising in big-sized coir carpets and nets for export to South Korea.

Now, his co-operative exports two or three containers of products to South Korea, each container filled with 150-160 products worth about VNĐ1 billion ($42,900).

Coir carpets are usually used in restaurants or for children’s playgrounds.

Nguyễn Thị Tố Loan, an employee at Thuận’s co-operative, said the machine helped increase productivity and nearly 30 employees there had a stable income.

Loan said Thuận was kind to employees and was willing to help anyone who had difficulties.

Thuận said he was surprised when he was titled an “outstanding farmer” this year.

“I made the machine to help reduce coconut farmers’ hardship, increase their income and deal with a huge amount of coconut husks,” Thuận said. “Husks are no longer wasted.”

Thuận said he would keep seeking solutions to improve his machine. He is also thinking of making another machine to peel coconuts automatically.

He said farmers must use their strength and sharp knives to peel coconuts, which posed a risk to labour safety. — VNS

Workers at Thuận’s co-operative make coconut fibre carpets. — Photo