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Western herbs take root, yet not firmly in Vietnam

Wednesday, October 22, 2014, 15:36 GMT+7

Over the past few years, several farms in Da Lat resort town in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong have provided local restaurants with high-quality supplies of organic Western aromatic herbs.

Instead of buying imported Western aromatic herbs for exorbitant prices, local restaurants specializing in foreign delicacies now have locally produced supplies at hand.

After failing in flower cultivation a few years ago, Pham Thi Thu Cuc, one of the farm owners in Lac Duong District, tried her hands growing Western aromatic herbs.

She did extensive research and faced immense difficulty in the beginning. To begin with, her daughter, who was then studying in France, sent home the seeds.

Cuc’s farm now boasts a 5,000-hectare section of the herbs, including Salad Burnet, Thyme, Oregano and Rosemary.

“I grew a limited amount of each kind to start with. Luckily, they require similar caretaking as our local varieties do and are compatible with the climate also,” Cuc, in her 60s, shared.

However, she faced great difficulty seeking outlets for her herbs, as the exotic veggies remained alien to local consumers then.      There were times when her farm could only sell a few kilograms for months, with the remainder discarded.

Undaunted, Cuc persevered, expanding her initial 1,000m2 section to the current 5,000m2.

Her business gradually took off.

Cuc is planning to dry her leftover vegetables and turn them into aromatic tea.

Her farm currently boasts some 20 varieties of Western herbs.

Cuc added that Rosemary- a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers- is the newest and most care-requiring addition to her farm. 

It typically takes one or two years before the variety can be harvested.

The variety also needs two months to sprout back after harvest, while other types only need one week to do so. Rosemary, whose aroma is also lingering and strongest, thus fetches the highest price, at some VND250,000 (US$12) per kilogram.    Other varieties are priced from VND70,000 ($3.3).

Nguyen Van Phuc, 51, also from the same district, also grows Western herbs on his 300m2 garden.

He sells to his regular clients some 10kg of each variety a day, earning some VND1 million (US$47).

“I really love growing these kinds of herbs, as they’re economically good and smell really great,” Phuc said.

54-year-old Dinh Xuan Toan, Phuc’s neighbor, also grows some 500m2 of Western herbs.

He has just grown a new batch, and it takes some 25 days to one month before they can be harvested.

Toan pays particular attention to his herbs, though he also grows other local kinds of veggies.

Cuc, Phuc and Toan adopt organic farming approaches for their herbs by using orange and garlic essential oil to repel pests and herb-based chemicals.

The farmers of western herbs in the district keep regular contact to exchange experience and help one another out.

Seeking outlets

Khoi, an engineer from Fresh Studio, a Dutch company, visits Toan’s and Phuc’s farms once a week to check on their farming techniques.

He added that the district’s favorable terrain, easy transport and less rainy weather are suitable for growing western herbs.

However, farmers still face hurdles in seeking outlets for their products, which fetch considerably higher prices than local ones and remain new on the local market.

Several other farmers tried their hands growing these herbs, but gave up sometime later.

Phuc and Toan grew various kinds at the beginning, but now grow only two or three varieties to supply for Metro, a major supermarket chain and a Dutch company.

According to Vo Van Tuan, who is in charge of buying vegetables for Metro, most of the supermarket’s clients for these herbs are luxury restaurants.

Metro currently purchases from Cuc and some other farmers some kilograms of each variety and is trying to enhance the amount in the coming time.



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