Garlic grown on Ly Son Island off central Vietnam, famous for its taste and rich nutrients, has seen its prices drop by fifty percent compared to previous years, forcing farmers in the ‘garlic kingdom’ to make the rare call for help.
Once a sought-after delicacy that sold for VND80,000 (US$3.40) a kilogram, Ly Son garlic has now dropped in price by more than fifty prcent, to VND35,000-40,000 ($1.50-1.70) a kilogram.
Over the past week, the local youth union and farmers’ association Ly Son Island have stepped in to promote the purchase of garlic from farmers at a higher price than merchants can offer.
Thirty-five metric tons of garlic has so far been sold this way, but it is still an inconsequential number compared to some 250 metric tons of the plant still remaining in farmers’ inventories, according to the Ly Son administration.
The garlic is then shipped to the mainland for sale, but less than half of the lot has been bought by consumers.
“When we finish selling the first lot, we will continue to buy garlic from local farmers to help them cut their losses,” said Pham Van Vuong, secretary of Ly Son’s youth union.
One factor that contributes to this year’s plunge in Ly Son garlic prices is the farmers’ practice of stocking their harvest and waiting for the year-end season, when garlic rates are typically highest due to their increased demand.
However, increased production in the garlic-growing region of Khanh Hoa Province has led to lackluster demand for Ly Son garlic, which is more expensive, according to Pham Van Cong, director of a company that trades Ly Son garlic.
The shady practice of importing garlic grown elsewhere to Ly Son Island and rebranding it as ‘Ly Son garlic’ has also caused consumers to question the quality of garlic sourced from the island.
“Meanwhile, there is no branding, logo or anti-counterfeit stamp to distinguish authentic garlic from fakes,” Cong said.
The problem spiraled so out of control that between 2014 and 2016 the administration of Ly Son had to pay a commission for captains of ships ferrying between the island and the mainland to discourage them from transporting alien garlic to Ly Son.
However, the policy was halted in 2017 and garlic from other regions is now making its way back to Ly Son, forcing authorities to scramble as they seek a counter-measure.
Nine years has passed since Vietnam’s National Office for Intellectual Property recognized Ly Son garlic as a protected brand, but no official branding system or geographical indication has been issued, said Pham Thi Huong, deputy chairwoman of Ly Son.
“We are trying to roll out a geographical indication for Ly Son garlic in 2019,” she added.