Enriching oneself often means doing things a different way and at least two people in southern Vietnam have proven this true.
Each of them now owns assets worth billions of Vietnamese dong (VND1 billion ~ US$48,100) after doing what few others did at the time.
One studied how to keep the skink, a species of wild reptile called rắn mối in Vietnamese, for meat.
The other did something that was considered ‘crazy’ – raising a special species of ant to create pricey aloeswood.
A kilogram of low-quality aloeswood costs VND2-5 million ($96-240), while the highest-quality goes for up to VND1 billion per kilogram.
Making money from the skink
Sports training teacher Nguyen Van Thuyet, 35, who lives in the Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu, may not have become a billionaire if he had not done things differently.
After graduating as a master in sports training in China, he went on to nurture his love for farming.
He has turned his house in Zone 10 of Ward 1 in Bac Lieu City – the provincial capital – into a farm for 70,000 breeder skinks and has distributed the reptile for meat to provinces and cities across Vietnam and exported them to Singapore, China, and South Korea.
He once tried raising other animals such as cows, goats, porcupines, and birds but failed and almost went bankrupt.
Knowing that the meat of rắn mối contains the properties of tonic medicine with high nutritional value, he thought to himself, “No one has ever farmed this reptile, why don’t I try it?”
He began going through local gardens during his free time for a month to catch around 20 of the wild animals and kept them in a 100 square meter enclosure. But they all disappeared after just a night because he did not realize that the reptile belongs to the same family as lizards and are skilled climbers.
He later covered the inside walls with enameled tiles.
He tried feeding rắn mối fish, shrimp, rice, and eggs, but this did not work because their favorite food is insects. Thuyet began keeping crickets to feed the reptiles.
He also used dead reptiles as food for the animals.
Now, his farm has not only skinks, but also crickets and snakes, and provides 15,000 skinks for meat every month.
In the last six years, Thuyet has earned a profit of over VND1 billion from selling skinks and another VND700 million ($33,700) a year from selling snakes.
“I don’t have enough products to meet customer demand,” Thuyet admitted.
Thuyet has been invited to speak on the farming program of Binh Duong Radio, just outside Ho Chi Minh City.
He has also established the websites www.trangtraichannuoi.com and www.nuoiranmoi.com.vn to provide free guidance and experience for other farmers.
Nguyen Van Thuyet is seen breeding skinks (rắn mối) on his farm. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Raising green ants to create aloeswood
The man behind a success story stemming from this ‘crazy idea’ is Truong Thanh Khoan, 61, residing in Phu Son Commune, Tan Phu District of the southern province of Dong Nai.
Thanks to the ‘crazy idea’, he has earned billions of Vietnamese dong each year.
Wholesalers from Thailand have contacted him to buy his method of creating aloeswood, but he refuses to sell the know-how.
His ‘crazy idea’ originated during a difficult period in the 1970s when he went through forests in the southern and central provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc, and Lam Dong and crossed the border to forests in Laos to search for aloeswood, which is called either kỳ nam or trầm hương in Vietnamese, depending on its quality.
Khoan said he realized that he could find aloeswood in a species of tree called Aquilaria – a large evergreen native to Southeast Asia. More specifically, aloeswood was found inside the injured trunk of the trees, where green ants often gather.
In 2000, he began planting 1,000 Aquilaria trees on his farm. When the trees were four-five years old – enough to produce aloeswood – the man began picking the green ants he had seen in wild forests decades ago and kept them at home.
The unique thing about the green ants is that they secrete fluids when they hear a sudden noise or are surprised.
Khoan lines a layer of cotton under the ant cage to collect the fluid, which is then kept in a special environment and infused with substances before being applied to the injuries of the Aquilaria trees. He uses drilling machines to drill into the trunk of the tree to create wounds.
With the fluid pumped into a tree trunk, aloeswood is formed, producing a dark aromatic resin in response to the attack. The resin is valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, and thus is used for incense and perfume.
“My product is definitely made from nature, with no poison added, so it is favored not only in Vietnam but also in Thailand, China, and Japan,” Khoan said.
Now his farms have over 3,000 trees producing aloeswood and 10,000 other saplings.
In June, Khoan was granted an exclusive patent for producing aloeswood by the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology.