Traders purchase ginger in Mường Xén Township, Kỳ Sơn District in Nghệ An Province. — Photo nhandan.com.vn
NGHỆ AN — National Highway 16 running through the mountainous districts of Nghệ An Province is known as the “Happy Road” among local ethnic minority groups because it has helped people in remote villages escape poverty.
Ten years ago, travelling from the remote mountainous communes of Mỹ Lý, Bắc Lý, Mai Sơn and Nhôn Mai to downtown districts was very difficult, according to the Nhân Dân (People) newspaper.
People had to take mountain trails or go by canoe along the Nậm Nơn River, which was very time consuming.
Travelling between ethnic villages in border areas was even more difficult.
It was difficult to imagine the hardships people in the area had to endure. Carrying pigs and dozens of kilogrammes of rice on their backs, they walked along bumpy roads to district markets. Then after selling their goods, they had to buy essential household goods and carry them back home.
Normally, that would take two or three days.
Due to poor transport, mountainous people had to buy essential goods from lowland areas for high prices, while their agricultural products and poultry and cattle were sold for next to nothing.
For years, people dreamed of a road that would make their lives easier.
Dream comes true
And the people's wish came true when Nghệ An Province invested in the Western Nghệ An Route, or provincial Highway 543, at an altitude of more than 1,500m. The route was put into use in 2015.
The road is like a silk strip in the middle of the sky, winding around the high mountains and connecting national highways 7 and 48 and running through the villages of 10 communes in the mountainous districts of Quế Phong, Tương Dương and Lỳ Sơn.
The road helped to connect local people living along the border with the wider world.
At the end of 2015, the Ministry of Transport decided to upgrade the roads connecting districts in the west of central Thanh Hoá Province and the Western Nghệ An Route to National Highway 16.
The mountainous highway is an important route linking Thanh Hoá Province and Mường Xén Township in Kỳ Sơn District, Nghệ An Province.
National Highway 16 also connects border and mountainous communes to district centres in Nghệ An Province.
Previously, travelling from Mường Xén Township to neighbouring Kim Sơn Township in Quế Phong District took 6 to 7 hours. Now the travel time has been shortened to 3 hours.
“In 2003, two friends and I took two days to travel from my hometown in Huổi Cò in Dương District to Hoà Bình Township for admission to secondary school,” Và Bá Tịnh, a Mông ethnic man and vice chairman of Nhôn Mai Commune, told Nhân Dân newspaper.
“First we had to trek and then went by canoe along the Nậm Nơn River,” Tịnh recalled.
“Now this journey takes only 4 hours,” he said.
Thanks to National Highway 16, Huổi Cò Village which is locating halfway up the mountain was accessible by car so goods were conveniently circulated, he said.
For example, more than 60ha of the passion fruit plantations tended to by villagers was now bought by traders for high prices, which was helping farmers earn stable incomes, the vice chairman said.
“This is something that many generations of Mông ethnic people had never thought about. Huổi Cò became the first border village in Nghệ An Province to meet the new rural criteria,” he said.
According to Lê Văn Liệu, Party secretary of Mỹ Lý Commune, life had significantly improved thanks to National Highway 16.
“The highway helps with travel and to transport goods more conveniently with dozens of passenger and cargo buses running from Vinh City to Mỹ Lý Commune,” Liệu said.
Now local people could buy essential goods at reasonable prices while their agricultural and animal husbandry products could sell more easily for good prices, he said.
“Sometimes there were not enough goods to supply traders, especially black chickens and free-range pigs. This encouraged people to develop production,” he said.
Previously, people travelled by motor-canoes but now they use motorbikes. The commune has been connected to the national grid and 70-80 per cent of households have televisions and refrigerators.
“This was what the people here have been dreaming of,” Liệu said.
When National Highway 16 opened, the commune had to relocate some households from along the Nậm Nơn River, where there was a high risk of landslides, to safer areas along the highway, which gradually became used for services and commercial ventures.
The commune currently has 15 cars to transport passengers and goods.
Kha Văn Long’s household in Xiềng Tắm Village is a prime example of a family who have benefited from a stable income provided by the highway.
“When the highway was built through the my village, my wife and I decided to set up a kiosk on the road to sell essential goods and construction materials from the lowland to villagers, as well purchase local agricultural products,” Long said.
After just a few years of doing business, Long built a house worth VNĐ1 billion (US$43,000) and had bought two cars to transport goods.
Long is one of dozens of households in these rural villages who have achieved success from running service, trade and farming businesses.
As the highway passes through the communes of Châu Kim, Châu Thôn and Tri Lễ in Quế Phong District to Nhôn Mai and Mai Sơn communes in Tương Dương District, and Mỹ Lý, Bắc Lý, Huổi Tụ, Phà Đánh and Tạ Cạ communes in Kỳ Sơn District, several residential areas and busy commercial centres have sprung up.
In the communes of Huổi Tụ and Phà Đánh, there are hills of ginger and shan tea plantations belonging to Mông ethnic families.
Local people, especially young workers, have become active in the trade and service industries, or farming.
“People no longer sit around expecting support from the authorities,” Liệu said.
The highway had become a strategic route for the socio-economic development of districts in the west of Nghệ An Province, said Vi Hoè, party secretary of Kỳ Sơn District.
Convenient transport links had helped local people to develop the production and consumption of agricultural products.
Thanks to that, Kỳ Sơn had formed and developed commodity production models for passion fruit, ginger, medicinal plants and shan tea in poor border and mountainous areas, Hoè said.
The district has also implemented policies to attract investment in tourism, especially community and adventure tours such as conquering the 2,720m Phu Xai Lai Leng Mountain.
“National Highway 16 has helped awaken the potential of remote areas and allowed ethnic minority groups to develop new economic models, step-by-step escaping poverty,” Hoè added. — VNS