Thursday, December 14, 2006

Innovative farmer makes good with wood

Innovative farmer makes good with wood
Tree of life: Do tram, or aquilaria-crassna trees, grow widely in the central province of Quang Ngai, where they are used for making resins. The trees have brought prosperity to many farming households. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue
by Nhat Lam
Tran Van Quyen decided to give up his position as deputy director of the Cat Tien National Park to set up his own farm in the remote highlands in the central province of Quang Ngai, Tan Phu District.
We have to walk several kilometres from the edge of Nui Tuong Forest to climb a hill to Quyen’s farm in Nui Tuong Village, where we find 14 terraced lakes which he has built to direct water from the high mountains to his farm where it is used for irrigation and for raising fish.
The farm is worthy of its name Son Thuy (Mountain and Water) and is so beautiful it could easily be the setting of legends.
The 20ha property takes in a large house on stilts and about 100 sorts of fruit trees including mangoes, oranges and mandarins, and many kinds of rare medical herbs.
But prominent among these trees are thousands of lucrative do bau, a kind of do tram or aquilaria crassna, used for making resins and other extracts for commercial purposes.
Quyen’s story begins in 1999 when, after more than 20 years as a State employee, he invested almost all of his VND2 billion (US$125,000), and borrowed more from friends and banks to set up the farm.
Quyen says he was much more confident about growing the do bau trees, rather than trying to live off growing fruit plants and cash crops.
"I travelled through nearly the entire central region to seek out young do bau trees because in early 2000, farm owners often grew coffee, pepper and other cash crops. So young do bau trees were very rare," Quyen says.
"My ideas seemed to be very strange to many people. My relatives also said I would very soon be faced with bankruptcy."
But the past seven years have proven that Quyen followed the right track. Last year he earned as much as VND800 million.
Recently, he earned VND200 million from the selling his first 100 seven-year-old do bau trees for people to extract aquilaria oil.
Quyen says he will use his remaining 900 do bau plants to produce tram.
In the past, methods to create high-quality tram huong (eagle wood) were kept secret. But the most popular ones now are drilling the trees to spraying chemicals into them, or driving into the do bau tree with salt-soaked steel pieces.
A new method
The process of making tram huong is similar to raising oysters for pearls. It means the do bau tree must be heavily hurt to secrete its resins around the wounded points and after many years, it will become high-quality eagle wood.
Being a forest researcher, Quyen found a method of his own to create tram huong by using a kind of woodworm, the very insects that most farmers dread.
The woodworms are locally called bu xe. They slip into the trees to eat the wood to feed themselves until they become butterflies.
For other trees, the bu xe may cause harm but for the do bau tree, the bu xe force it to secrete resins which become tram huong.
Quyen says this natural method creates much more high-quality tram huong which can be sold at a higher price compared with the products made through popular methods.
"Twenty years of working as a forest researcher at the Cat Tien National Park helped me discover the insects that could help me to produce the rare tram huong now," Quyen explains.
Currently, he has set a net around his do bau forest to raise bu xe and thus create tram huong. He also produces young do bau trees for those farmers who want to grow tram huong.
"I will gain my investment back within the year," Quyen says, adding that he will no longer fear bankruptcy because the farm is estimated to earn him an annual profit of VND500 million a year.
Besides do bau, Quyen also invests in growing other specialist trees which have been listed in the Viet Nam Red Book, such as diospyros min ebony, dallergia bariensis, pahudia, taxusp and pterocarpus pedatus pierre.
"I planted these trees not for profit but for preservation," he says.
Sharing good fortune
He tells us that he has asked local people to use do bau trees instead of dong (a kind of tree often used as a pile for pepper growing).
The peppers will stick themselves closer to the do bau trees and give much more fruits than to the dong trees, and they will face less diseases, he explains.
Moreover, after eight years of growing the peppers, the farmers can sell the fresh do bau trees because three tonnes of the trees after processing will give one litre of tram oil that can be sold at a price of more than US$7,000. The tram oil sells very well in the local and international markets.
Many farming households have been following Quyen’s plan and guidelines.
"We hope that in the near future the do bau trees will bring prosperity to my village, one of the poorest areas in the Dong Nai River," he says.
Quyen recalls the story of his life: he was born in the poor mountainous village of Quang Ngai. His childhood was closely connected with bird song and forests. His father, a revolutionary, was arrested and placed in prison in Con Dao until his death. Quyen’s mother and her eight children used the forests to earn a living.
But they couldn’t live long in their homeland because they were relatives of a communist. They had to leave for Sai Gon, now HCM City. Quyen says he had to help his mother work very hard after he finished his classes.
After graduating from the then University of Agriculture and Forestry, in 1981, he volunteered to work at the Tan Phu District’s forestry, located among rolling mountains and forests in the south-eastern region.
Two years later he was assigned to act as deputy director of the Cat Tien National Park. During his time working at the park, Quyen tried to improve his forest knowledge by practising and learning from travelling to other national parks.
"My hard work has finally paid off," Quyen says. — VNS

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