As a poor farmer pioneering in planting asparagus according to the local authorities’ policy, Hung Ky has now become a rich man that helps change Tuan Tu village which is home to the Cham ethnic minority people.

Prosperity on white sand

“Flying sand, jumping sand” refers to the agricultural lands of Ninh Thuan province, including Tuan Tu village. Despite local farmers’ all-year-round industriousness, poverty persisted.

Hung Ky, Director of Tuan Tu General Service Cooperative in An Hai commune, Ninh Phuoc district, Ninh Thuan province 

Taking me to Nao Van Xay’s house, Hung Ky recalled, “before 2010, I planted peanuts, cabbage, and onions but I didn't get enough food because the price was lowered during the harvest period.” Now, though naturally-growing cactus bushes still cover the road to Xay’s house, they could not overwhelm the color of the green asparagus field.

When we visited Xay, his wife and he were working in the asparagus garden behind their 100 sq.m spacious one-storey house.

“I built this house in 2019 at a cost of about VND 700 million three years after joining the cooperative. I have lived here since then to take care of asparagus instead of my old house in the village,” Xay boasted while keeping fastening the mother asparagus plants to the poles to keep them straight. Xay added that he is now not poor anymore and pointed to nearby Hung Ky’s more spacious house.

In Tuan Tu village, Hung Ky and Xay's families are enjoying a stable income and accumulation and so do all Cham ethnic people who are members of Tuan Tu Cooperative.

"With 1,000 sq.m of asparagus, I can earn VND 500,000 every morning when I open my eyes,” Hung Ky revealed.

According to Hung Ky, the cooperative's asparagus growing area is 53ha. The fixed selling price agreed with businesses is VND 50,000 per kg. Thus, the revenue of each household in particular and the cooperative in general is not small, especially for farmers starting from the scratch. Ky added the 84-member cooperative earmarks over VND 10 billion a year.

Leader of An Hai Commune People's Committee and members of Tuan Tu General Service Cooperative visiting Mr. Nao Van Xay's asparagus garden (second from left)

Changes to the village began in 2011 when the Ninh Thuan provincial Agricultural Promotion Center gave asparagus varieties for free and guided local poor households, including Ky's family to plant them. However, the first year was not successful because local people did not dare to eat asparagus because they thought it was a willow or bamboo shoot. “I sold it to the market at only VND 10,000 to VND 20,000 a kg,” said Ky. At last, their efforts were paid off. More local people and customers made orders. Ky’s asparagus planting area increased. “In 2016, I really succeeded in terms of high productivity and market,” Ky said, adding that he earned over VND 1 million a day at that time.

Getting rich together

In June 2016, the local authorities suggested supporting families with good household economy like Ky’s to establish a cooperative. Ky was surprised to have been elected the cooperative’s director. At that time, though he did not know how to operate it, he was determined to help others do business like him.

Tuan Tu Cooperative was established with 13 members. The financial contribution of each person was only a few million dong, but most of them have to borrow. That initial difficulty was soon over. Success followed success. In just over six years, the cooperative’s members have increased to 84.

Planting asparagus costs Tuan Tu people both time and efforts. They find them busy with it. At first, they have to take care of the seeds to germinate. The seedlings then grow into mother trees and from that asparagus shoots are cracked for harvest. In addition, every day farmers have to fasten the tree, prune and water it.

Fortunately, the Dutch seedlings hold high yield and good quality and are required to be replanted after many years. Asparagus shoots grow from 12 to 15cm high a night and are harvested continuously for three months and rest for just one month. However, for those who do not follow the cooperative model, they sometimes benefit from high prices, but are often forced on prices and even lose everything in special situations.

For the cooperative’s members, what they pay attention to is just produce more clean and safe products. The cooperative’s management board is in charge of signing contract with the businesses. Thus, there is no upheaval in price. In return, businesses believe in Tuan Tu Cooperative, ensuring that when prices go up, no members sell out to traders.

With the signing of long-term contracts on product consumption at a fixed price, businesses were still responsible for paying and purchasing products even during the Covid-19 pandemic period in 2021. Notably, businesses supported seedlings and capital for cooperative members to expand growing areas.

Alongside helping its members getting rich, Tuan Tu Cooperative also supports disadvantaged local families to gradually escape from poverty by lending them capital to develop production.

“In 2019, the Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee’s Ninh Phuoc district chapter assigned us to help 20 households get out of poverty. By the end of 2020, I reported at the National Patriotic Emulation Congress that the cooperative had completed the task," said Hung Ky.

Ky is now very busy with managing the cooperative and providing technical guidance to local people, so he has to hire someone to take care of asparagus at VND 7.5 million VND a person a month. He explained that it is seen as a way to generate additional income for local people.

Right policies make positive changes

The success of Hung Ky and Tuan Tu Cooperative comes from each individual’s efforts and determination, but first of all from the right and timely policies and great support of the local Party committees, Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee’s chapter, and relevant organizations. As a result, the cooperative boosts partnership with other businesses to ensure long-term production, organizes training courses to improve its members’ capacity and other skills, and grants VietGAP certificates to the members.

Vice Chairman of An Hai Commune People's Committee Ho Thanh Phong affirmed that the Party and State’s guideline and policies on supporting the establishment of cooperatives, including product consumption, preliminary processing houses, equipment, seeds, and materials... are very suitable to help people get out of poverty and get rich sustainably.

According to Phong, the living standard of the Cham ethnic people here has improved thanks to asparagus growing. The rate of poor households has decreased to less than 5% from over 30% in previous years. “This is a great success,” said Phong.

The green color of asparagus has become the main color in not only of Tuan Tu village but also in An Hai commune, replacing the image of an impoverished land with “flying sand, jumping sand" and cactus trees. From 1ha of asparagus in 2010, the commune now has 110.2ha of asparagus out of 300 ha of safe vegetables set in the resolution of the commune party committee.

More support is called on to help local farmers reinvest in their asparagus fields, and apply high technology to achieve VietGAP standards and diversify products.

Hung Ky and other Cham ethnic people have got rich by choosing the right plant and developing a sustainable agricultural development model in their home town.

Seen as a successful model to help industrious Cham ethnic people get rich, Tuan Tu Cooperative has many times been honored to welcome Party and State leaders to visit.

By Ngoc Hung

Translated by Mai Huong