Enterprising farmer goes against the grain

Published: 01/10/2008 05:00

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VietNamNet Bridge - Twelve years ago, after a long day of selling fish and other foodstuff from his boat, an exhausted Nguyen Loi Duc threw himself in bed, hoping for a restful slumber.

Farmer Nguyen Loi Duc, one of the wealthiest farmers in his village, shows his state-of-the-art rice drier.

VietNamNet Bridge - Twelve years ago, after a long day of selling fish and other foodstuff from his boat, an exhausted Nguyen Loi Duc threw himself in bed, hoping for a restful slumber.

But he tossed and turned for two days.

When he woke up the second morning, Duc made a decision that would change both his life and many others – he vowed to escape the impoverished life that had entrapped his mother and father for years.

Duc has saved up to 30 per cent in production expenses by fully mechanising his 70-ha farm.

His neighbours, however, warned him that land in his village in An Giang Province was not fit for farming.

You won’t be able to grow anything, they said. Only cajeput and palmyra trees and wild plants can survive the alkaline, rocky soil. Go to the big city for a better life, Duc was told.

But Duc, now 65, saw an opportunity where others predicted failure.

Workers transport paddy by boat to Duc’s warehouse.

At first, he tried his hand at raising fish, building cages and living on the boat that his parents had given him as a wedding present. But all of the fish died, and he had to start anew.

Seeking a challenge and a better life for his wife and children, he sold his boat and a few pieces of equipment, took out a small bank loan and began looking for land.

In 1996, Duc found a wild, uncultivated site in an unpopulated area and purchased three ha in Khanh An Village, An Phu District.

He had only enough money to buy one plough, and there were no roads in the area.

“We were sad and lonely because few people lived there, but we wanted to overcome any hardship so we could have a better future,” he says.

After one month of “wrestling with weeds and cajeput tree stumps”, Duc says he finally got his field in shape to plant his first paddy crop.

He learned how to do it by reading a book about agricultural techniques given to him by a local government official.

“My wife and I sweated day and night,” he says.

But their efforts produced a rich reward – a bumper crop of three tonnes per hectare.

Duc was then able to pay back his bank loan and purchase an additional 12ha of never-before cultivated land.

But the vagaries of nature interfered, and his next crop faced a serious drought and an invasion of mice, which devastated the fields.

He and a few other farmers, who had also bought cheap land in the area, were back in debt.

“I regretted that so many farmers had to leave their farms,” Duc said. “I borrowed money from relatives and bought more land for another crop. I thought if our crop failed again, I would quit and return to my original job selling food from a boat on the water.”

His second harvest in 1997, however, was successful and he was able to pay off his debt and pursue his goal of becoming a landowner.

Robust growth

Two consecutive years of good harvest followed, and many farmers in the province began flocking to the area, buying up land for only VND9 million (US$562) a hectare.

Duc was more than happy to share his knowledge for free with other farmers and often spoke about his former hard life as a small-time food trader on the water.

With business booming, Duc made good use of his past entrepreneurial experience and began buying and selling land in 1999.

With his earnings, he bought farming machinery, and within two years, he was buying and selling 500ha of farmland, ultimately earning hundreds of millions of dong.

A new road was also built to accommodate the growing numbers of farmers to the area.

Today, Duc employs 20 people and owns 70ha of farmland and dozens of state-of-the-art equipment, including a combine harvester, rice drier and transplanters.

His farm is fully mechanised except for the application of fertiliser on fields, which his workers still do by hand.

Machine power

Famed in his village for helping hundreds of struggling families to earn a decent living, Duc is also known for his passionate embrace of technology and his insights into the benefits mechanisation can bring.

In recent years the Government has urged farmers to mechanise, which ensures higher yields and minimises post-harvest losses and costs.

Many farmers in the delta have been offered financial assistance from the Government to buy combines and other equipment, but the majority still find them unaffordable.

Duc, however, can afford the best. He is the first farmer in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta to use a laser leveler (usually attached to a tractor) to make his fields as flat as possible, which saves water and improves yield.

“By using machines, I’ve saved 30 per cent on production expenses and increased my profit. I plan to buy three more laser levelers,” Duc says.

Although Duc is reluctant to give exact figures about his income, he has earned VND20 million ($1,250) for each hectare of paddy on his 70-ha farm so far this year.

This year’s harvests were especially bountiful for Duc and other farmers, with the latest summer-autumn crop yielding eight tonnes per hectare on average.

Only one other man in his village of 2,000 farmers is wealthier than he is, Duc says proudly. Not an empty boast, as everyone in his village knows he earned it the hard way – by first helping himself and then sharing his know-how with others.

(Source: VNS)

Update from: http://english.vietnamnet.vn//profiles/2008/10/806610/

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