Article series on “Hope from ginseng gardens” of Women Production Group in Dak Vien village, Te Xang commune, Tu Mo Rong district, Kon Tum province.

Indigenous plant development

Established in March 2019 with 21 Xe Dang ethnic minority members, the Women Production Group of Dak Vien village or Ginseng Production Group of Dak Vien village enjoyed their first batch of ginseng after the successful diversion from their traditional household cultivation basis to industrial and large scale approach. Dang Shen ginseng is the indigenous plant of Kon Tum province which is mostly found in Mang Ri and Ngoc Lay communes, according to Ms. Y Pot, head of the Dak Vien Ginseng group and Women’s Union. The locals came to know the demand and took the seedlings from the forest to plant when they received an order previously.

Despite the instability of the fresh ginseng price, Y Pot and the group members determined “not to purchase seedlings from somewhere else since their quality may not be good enough”.

Chairwoman of the “million VND” cooperative

The Dak Vien Women Cooperative was officially established based on the group’s 20-month experience as well as the encouragement and supports from the Provincial Women’s Union and the P4EM project. The cooperative expanded its membership to a number of other village residents. After three months of establishment, the number of the cooperative funding members is 33; 22 of them are directly involved in the ginseng cultivation and process in the village.

Those who used to confined to fields, kitchens and, children have now become businesswomen. Y Pot still did not believe it is true when she looked at her name card with her position indicated as Chairwoman of the Board of Directors. She still remembered her ambivalent feelings that are a mix of anxiety, happiness, and bewilderment at the idea of converting the group to a cooperative. “When I first heard about the cooperative model, I could not imagine its mechanisms. After Mr. On (1) has returned to his institution, I visited the institution for further discussions. I thought a lot about the model then but still could not figure it out. I was, even more, overwhelmed in my next visit because I think it is impossible for us. The cooperative model seems very difficult,” – shared by Y Pot.

It was likely that her defeated feeling was partly attributed to the accounted contribution of the cooperative members: 666 million VND! If the change in funding management from household level (about 10 million VND) to group level (some dozen million VND) is a big stride, managing the cooperative’s fund at hundreds of million VND must be a “gallop” to her since it requires not only determination but also trained knowledge and skills.

4-Star product objective

Y Pot’s concerns reduced when she and other members of the Cooperative’s Board of Directors (mainly core members of the original Ginseng Group) participated in the capacity-building courses organized within the project. In addition, the project also engaged experts to collaborate and link the cooperative with local procuring enterprises. Recently, the cooperative has introduced to the market its “sweet Dang Shen” in addition to the fresh ginseng. They invested in a thermal dryer to improve the cooperative’s processing capacity in the future. Other products such as ginseng tea, etc. are under plan.

The cooperative’s “sweet Dang Shen” participated in the OCOP (2) trial competition and was rated 3/5. Y Pot and her team set the objective to improve this product so that it will be rated 4/5 in the official competition in May 2021.

“I can not make it alone”

Y Pot said she has “changed a lot” in the journey from the household-, group- to cooperative-basis production. She described herself now as a person who is “dare to ask” and “having less fear”. Looking back on her past long journey, Y Pot is grateful for the supports and determination of the group members, women’s unions of district and provincial levels, and the project trainers.

I told the cooperative members yesterday that unless Mr. On or Mr. Thia (3) kicks me out, I will not leave the group. Otherwise, I will definitely stay with the group regardless of any request by any person,” – Y Pot laughed with happiness and confidence.

In reply to the question on her current biggest wish, she indicated a solid workshop to facilitate proper production activities, good production technique mastered by all members, and improved productivity and product quality of the cooperatives. So that one day, the Hosadavi-brand ginseng of Dak Vien Women Cooperative will be distributed across the country, as the “dream” they drew in their Picture of the Future (4).

(1) Assoc. Prof, Dr. and Teacher of Merit Tran Van On – Lecturer of Hanoi University of Pharmacy was engaged by the project to provide guidance and consultation to the cooperative. He is also a San Chay ethnic minority and the leading flora expert in Vietnam. He is well known for his dream of making Vietnam the world’s medical garden.

(2) “One commune, one product” (OCOP in short) follows the Japanese movement of One village, one product (OVOP). This movement was introduced in Japan in the 1970s and brought about abundant benefits to their people.

(3) Mr. Nguyen Huu Thia – CARE’s Programme Officer in charge of the project in Kon Tum province.

(4) Picture of the Future: Detailed plan and objectives written by the Cooperative members are hung at the village’s communal house where the group members often reunite for discussions since the group formulation in March 2019.

CARE International in Vietnam implements the Partnership for Ethnic Minorities’ Equitable and Inclusive Development (P4EM) project from 2017 to 2021 in collaboration with Vietnam’s Committe for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA) and provincial Departments for Ethnic Minority Affairs of Hà Giang, Hòa Bình, Quảng Trị, Trà Vinh and Kon Tum. The P4EM project receives financial support from the Irish Aid.