FEATURE: Gardeners see profits in ‘green’ produce

QUANG NAM, Vietnam (Viet Nam News/ANN) - A co-operative of farmers are turning organic essential oils into useful household products.

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

Nghia, 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 Vietnam have successfully produced essential oils from cinnamon and citronella, but our community has yet to recognise the higher value of processed farm produce,” Nghia 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.

Nghia 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 Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).

Tien Phuoc District, 30km from Quang Nam’s provincial capital of Tam Ky, is close to Hoi An and My Son 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.  

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

Vo Thi Bich Van, vice chairwoman of the co-operative, said the sale of products brought in VND80 million (US$3,500) each month.

“Each litre of citronella oil sells for VND4.5 million ($199), while cinnamon oil is priced at VND5.5 million ($243). We offer a 10ml bottle of cinnamon oil for VND80,000 ($3.5),” Van said.

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

Van 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 Vo Hong Hung, a farmer in Tien Ha Commune.

He said each kilo of citronella costs VND5,000 ($0.2) as a seasoning, but the lemongrass collected for essential oil costs VND13,000 ($0.6) per kilo.

He said his cinnamon plantation earned him VND80 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 Tien Phuoc authorities have planned a community-based tourism service in combination with boosting diversified farm produce.

“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 Phung Van 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 VND300 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.

Challenges

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

“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.

Nghia said farmers had raised funds of VND2 billion ($88,000) – too little for the development of cosmetic production.

He said Tien Phuoc’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.”

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