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Vietnamese fruit farmers aim for global market   2008-07-15 - TuoiTre

After years of struggling, Mekong pomelo farmers are beginning to enjoy success thanks to a communal effort.

Members of the My Hoa Cooperative in Vinh Long’s Binh Minh District process pomelo fruit before exporting them to foreign markets.  



It was a great day for farmers from a southern commune when they received the news last May: feedback from Russian customers on their Vietnamese nam roi pomelos, a type of grapefruit, had been exceedingly positive.

Farmers from the My Hoa Commune in Vinh Long Province’s Binh Minh District run a fruit cooperative and recently exported over 100 tons of nam roi pomelo to European markets in Germany, the Netherlands and Russia.

It is the largest shipment since the commune first exported 17 tons to Russia last March.

Accounting for one third of the total growing area of nam roi pomelo in Vietnam, My Hoa Commune has gained national fame for its high-quality produce.

The fruit is now hoped to expand into more overseas markets and is in the process of acquiring certification from the Global Good Agriculture Practice (Global GAP).

My Hoa Cooperative’s Chairman Tran Van Sang said there would only be “minor steps” before the Global GAP certification is attained.

A tough beginning

My Hoa Commune is located on the bank of the Mekong Delta’s Hau River where the soil is rich in minerals and ideal for growing pomelo trees.

However, the farmers say they have worked long and hard to perfect the type of seedless pomelo produced in the area, and success did not happen overnight.

“For a long time, the fruits had only been sold as far away as nearby provinces,” Sang said.

“The farmers grew [the fruit] spontaneously and without technology.

The fruit had lots of seeds and used to be sold at low prices.

They even grew pomelotrees with orange and other trees, which caused mixed pollination and made the pomelo full of seeds.”

Sang, a pomelo trader for the last 15 years, says he has always nurtured the dream of having good fruit exported to other countries.

Backed by the Vietnam Gardening Association and Vinh Long’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sang and some of his friends established the My Hoa Nam Roi Pomelo Cooperative in July 2006 in an effort to promote their pomelo.

“But it was just a beginning to a hard process,” Sang said.

“Without clear prospects, the farmers refused to contribute money.

Members of the chairman board had to contribute their own money to operate the cooperative.

“But the biggest challenge was persuading the farmers to obey the process to produce good-quality fruit because they were used to planting different fruit trees in the garden, causing cross-bred fruits.”

Sang said the cooperative had to buy good pomelos at high prices to encourage the farmers to apply the process.

They also offered new technologies to the farmers to produce “clean” fruit.

Today, 130 farmers grow high-quality produce on 900 hectares of land – a substantial increase from the tens of hectares they used to farm on.

A fruitful endeavor

“After promising to buy the products from farmers, we opened wholesale and retail shops in a few markets in Ho Chi Minh City,” Sang said.

“We have also brought the fruit to all the fairs in the country.

At a fruit fair in northern Lao Cai Province last year, we signed contracts with northern fruit suppliers, including the Giai Viet Company and Hapro Group, to sell to northern provinces.” In May 2007, the cooperative signed a contract with Metro Cash & Carry Vietnam to cultivate 31 hectares of nam roi pomelo that meet Global GAP standards.

According to the contract, Metro will fund US$40,000 to hire specialists who will work with farmers to grow pomelo trees that meet GAP standards.

The certification is expected to be issued in the coming months.

Early this year, the cooperative received an order from an export company in HCMC, the Dat Vinh Company, to export 17 tons of pomelo to Russia in March.

Since then, the cooperative has received a monthly order from Russia for 34 tons of the fruit.

The Dat Vinh Company has also recently helped to export the cooperative’s fruits to Germany and the Netherlands.

“We are about to sell 34 tons of pomelo to the Netherlands next week,” Sang said.

“The Vietnamese pomelo is expected to reach more sophisticated markets worldwide when it gets Global GAP certification soon.”

Vice Chairman of the My Hoa Cooperative, Truong Ngoc Dung, said the cooperative was far from meeting the strong demand for pomelo from European countries and that many opportunities were still ahead for local farmers.

Head of the Southern Fruit Research Institute Nguyen Minh Chau, said that export prices for the pomelos would likely multiply 10-fold from the current price of around VND7,000 ($0.40) per kilogram once they meet Global Gap standards.

“The international market price for pomelo is $5-6 per kilogram,” he said.

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