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School dropout makes a mint from rice

Update: March, 20/2012 - 09:37


Uncle Chinh's rice: Le Van Chinh, right, a farmer from Phu Khanh Village in southern Tra Vinh Province, teaches local farmers how best to grow his "Chin Tao" rice.
by Nguyet Thanh

It is hard to imagine that someone who dropped out of school at the age of 15 would go on to become a millionaire, but Le Van Chinh, a farmer from Phu Khanh Village in southern Tra Vinh Province, has done just that thanks to his strong determination and willingness to take a risk.

Chinh is more commonly known by his nickname Chin Tao – a funny combination of the fact that he was the ninth (chin in Vietnamese) child born to his family and his first business was growing tao (jujube) trees.

About a dozen years ago Chinh quit school to plant jujube, when he realised the popularity of this wonderful fruit.

"I worked very hard in my jujube garden to ensure high yields," he said.

Farmers from villages throughout the district flocked to his jujube garden to see it with their own eyes and learn from his experiences. Since then, the nickname Chin Tao has been unshakeable.

Despite gaining some success with his jujube trees, Chinh didn't stop there.

The haunting worry of an unforeseen day when jujube trees were no longer high-earning crops and the idea that a small-scale farmer could never get rich motivated Chinh to move on.

He later shifted to produce seed rice and this time, his risk really took off.

Chinh is now a true millionaire farmer – honoured as the "King of Seed Rice". "Chin Tao" has became a famous brand of rice seed in the region.

He is the leader of a farming network that covers 400ha which produces about 10,000 tonnes of seed rice per year and brings an annual revenue of up to VND70-80 billion (US$3.7-3.8 million).

The idea of producing seed rice began cultivating in his mind in 2003 when he was working part-time for the provincial Department of Plant Protection and overheard the agricultural engineers talking a lot about the promise of rice cultivation.

Chinh immediately decided to cut down all the apple trees in his garden to grow rice with no hesitation.

His field was chosen as the site for a pilot project for a new insect-resistant rice variety by the Department of Plant Protection three years later and the result was beyond expectations.


High-flier: Le Van Chinh poses with one of his disease-resistant high-yield rice varieties. — File Photos
The success of the pilot brought Chinh his first customers. At first his neighbouring farmers asked Chinh to sell them some bushels of the rice, but soon after his business grew beyond his capacity. He called on some of his neighbours to join hands to expand the seed rice production.

With support from the local agriculture department, his seed production network now expands to cover an area of about 400ha. He collects all the rice harvested within the network but only selects the top-quality seeds to sell.

"Ensuring the quality of seed rice is the most important thing to achieve and maintain success," Chinh said, adding that he hired three agricultural engineers with support from the Department of Plant Protection to keep a close watch on the cultivation progress.

He also invested in building a 500-tonne storage warehouse, seed processing equipment and a packing machine to ensure good quality product.

Chin Tao seed rice is now sold to many other provinces in Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta and also to buyers in Cambodia.

Chinh once got into a bit of trouble with farmers in Cau Ke District's Thanh Phu Commune about the quality of the seed.

In this instance, he sold 17 tonnes of seed to local farmers for their summer-autumn crop in 2008 but the crops failed. The farmers blamed the failure on low quality seed and first sent their complaints to the commune's authorities, then the district's and finally moved on the provincial level. Even police jumped into the investigation.

Eventually it was discovered that the farmers did not follow Chin Tao's technical instructions as they planted the seed without processing the land first.

Meanwhile, in nearby Thanh Phu Commune, 20ha of fields cultivated with Chinh's seed grew tall and green, and generated high yields because the farmers followed his instructions.

"The good quality of seeds helps improve yield," chairman of Phong Phu Commune People's Committee Huynh Van Duc said happily. Yield in the commune, especially those cultivated by Khmer ethnic people, even doubled to reach five to six tonnes per ha.

What's more, it contributed to poverty reduction, Duc added. "Many local families in the commune were able to pay off their debts and escape poverty."

Chinh is a unique mix of a hardworking farmer, a risk-taking businessman and an inquiring agricultural engineer, which all combined to make him a success. — VNS

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