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Gardeners see profits in ‘green’ produce

Update: February, 17/2019 - 09:00
Going green: A farmer in Tiên Hà commune grows citronella at home. — VNS Photo Công Thành
Viet Nam News

A group of 16 farmers in Tiên Hà Commune in the mountainous Tiên Phước district of Quảng Nam Province have joined together in a ‘green herb’ co-operative – a model that helps promote production chains of farm produce and herbs and develop eco-tourism. Covering 6,000ha of forest area, Tiên Phước District has great potential as a source of material for essential oils. Bùi Hoài Nam reports.

Võ Duy Nghĩa and 16 farmers living in An Tú hamlet have teamed up to produce essential oils from cinnamon and citronella – two common crops in Quảng Nam Province – helping turn cheap ingredients into valuable products and promoting eco-tourism at the local level.

Nghĩa, 20, has turned essential oils from cinnamon and citronella, usually used for cooking and herbal medicine, into a range of 35 chemical-free products such as perfume, floor cleaner and washing up liquid, as well as drinkable cinnamon powder and anti-insect sprays.

“Some locals in Việt Nam have successfully produced essential oils from cinnamon and citronella, but our community has yet to recognise the higher value of processed farm produce,” Nghĩa said.

“Citronella, which is often harvested every six months, earns growers just a small amount. Cinnamon is also not very profitable as it takes a long time to grow,” he added.

Range of produce: Hand-made products include cinnamon and citronella by the Tiên Phước green herb co-operative. — VNS Photo Công Thành

Nghĩa said agroforestry produce must be diversified to bring more value to farmers, and essential oil from these two sources could be used as a base material for various useable products.

The 20-year-old said consumers now preferred chemical-free washing up liquid and organic perfumes. So, hand-made products made from these essential oils would be an effective solution.

First step

A group of 50 households in the hamlet agreed to establish a green herb co-operative following the "One Commune - One Product" (OCOP) plan, and combine eco-tourism from the Việt Nam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).

Tiên Phước District, 30km from Quảng Nam’s provincial capital of Tam Kỳ, is close to Hội An and Mỹ Sơn sanctuary – two UNESCO-recognised world heritage sites.

The district, which has preserved ancient villages and rich cultural values, plans to become an eco-tour site in the near future, and agroforestry production will help boost the value of farm produce.  

Natural: Essential oil of citronella is produced by farmers in Tiên Phước district. — VNS Photo Công Thành

The co-operative began collecting ingredients to produce essential oil in early 2018 after a year of preparatory work.

Võ Thị Bích Vân, vice chairwoman of the co-operative, said the sale of products brought in VNĐ80 million (US$3,500) each month.

“Each litre of citronella oil sells for VNĐ4.5 million ($199), while cinnamon oil is priced at VNĐ5.5 million ($243). We offer a 10ml bottle of cinnamon oil for VNĐ80,000 ($3.5),” Vân said.

She said these ‘green’ products help promote the village and attract more visitors to the area.

Vân said 70 per cent of co-operative’s products are sold online and through distribution agents. Some are even available at shops in the central region.

“My garden now gains a double income. All members of the co-operative supply citronella and cinnamon for oil extraction,” said Võ Hồng Hùng, a farmer in Tiên Hà Commune.

He said each kilo of citronella costs VNĐ5,000 ($0.2) as a seasoning, but the lemongrass collected for essential oil costs VNĐ13,000 ($0.6) per kilo.

He said his cinnamon plantation earned him VNĐ80 million (US$3,500) from 400 tonnes of leaves alone each year, excluding the bark and branches used for oil production.

The co-operative purchases 100 tonnes of cinnamon material from local farmers each year, and 200kg of citronella from local farmers each crop.

Eco-tourism

The Tiên Phước authorities have planned a community-based tourism service in combination with boosting diversified farm produce.

Using the land: Planting herbs will help farmers earn more from garden produce, while protecting forests from illegal logging. — VNS Photo Công Thành

“We are building 32 OCOP products as part of an eco-tour service in rural mountainous areas, including cinnamon, citronella and fruit,” said vice chairman of the district’s people’s committee Phùng Văn Huy.

“The district plans 25ha of aromatic herb farms to make essential oils, and 6,000ha of protected forest,” he said.

The district wants to create a high-value product by developing production chains between villages with strict quality standards.

The vice chairman said the value of garden and agroforestry products (log farm, herbs, vegetables) in the district was estimated at VNĐ300 billion ($13.3 million), but it had yet to be exploited.

“Cinnamon and citronella oils are two key OCOP products as part of the eco-tourism strategy. The district has also been promoting itself as a ‘clean and green’ destination for other products, including jackfruit, banana and pepper,” Huy said.

Huy said the district had called for investment from travel agencies in connection with tour services in the village and destinations in neighbouring provinces.

Tourism could help local people preserve their traditional gardens and agroforestry products as well as traditional culture, he said.

The vice chairman said 90 per cent of the population made a living on rice farming and gardening, so community-based tourism development would help boost locals’ income.

Smells good: Perfume is made from cinnamon essential oil. — VNS Photo Công Thành
For sale: A worker checks products at a showroom of Tiên Phước green herb co-operative. — VNS Photo Công Thành
Landscape: A village in Tiên Phước. — VNS Photo Công Thành
Raw materials: Cinnamon is collected for essential oil production in Tiên Phước district. — VNS Photo Công Thành

Challenges

Despite the debut of a saleable product, essential oils from Tiên Phước’s ‘green’ herb co-operative still have a long way to go, according to farmer Nghĩa.

“We need more investment in technology instead of manual production of essential oil. Our products are still not eye-catching, while only a few items are available for sale. Oils are regularly used in cosmetics, but these products require a significant amount of investment.” he said.

Nghĩa said farmers had raised funds of VNĐ2 billion ($88,000) – too little for the development of cosmetic production.

He said Tiên Phước’s ‘green’ herb product was just a starting point, and it would need time to grow into other areas.

“We successfully found a way for local farmers to increase the value of their produce, and set up a business model for them in the near future.” VNS   

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