Engineer breathes life into longan trees

January 25, 2009

An old lady prepares to sell her longan fruits, an example of the changes made thanks to Vui’s work in Bac Ninh Province’s Thuan Thanh District.

Lookatvietnam - Nguyen Van Vui has taken it upon himself to return fruit inhospitable branches of older longan trees. The trees are huddled in a large, verdant forests all across northern Viet Nam.

Vui’s altruistic venture there is going to dramatically change the lives of many poor farmers in the central province of Thanh Hoa. Vui will be showing them how to cure the weary trees so they can return to their former fecundity.

The longan fruit is amber with a sweet-tasting pulp. Thousands of years ago, the fruit was so revered that it was presented as a worthy gift to great kings. At that time, people believed that the fruit was a gift from the heavens.

The Hung Yen longan are a familiar sight across Viet Nam. Sadly though, the longan trees have not stood strong against their enemies, time and weather.

Engineer Nguyen Van Vui from the Viet Nam Seeds Centre, said the longan trees have not been replenishing themselves and their seeds are now old.

Vui was a farmer in the Bac Ninh Province before he became an agricultural engineer, so he understands much about farming.

Vui explained how 99 per cent of the longan trees are pollinated by insects and wind, and the crop is almost entirely dependent on the weather.

“Hundreds of hectares of northern longan will probably die soon,” he complained.

Vui recalled an event ten years ago, when farmers in Bac Ninh Province’s Thuan Thanh District collectively decided to chop down their longan trees. They thought they would benefit more from using the wood for fire and the land for growing vegetables.

At that time, farmers had a hard time tending longan trees in Hung Yen. Productivity was low and competition was high. A wave of Imported longan trees from China and Thailand brought heavy losses to the farmers.

Vui sympathised with farmers and decided to take action. He began to plant the grafting shoots of newer longans from Hung Yen Province and Ha Noi into older trees. He first tried it out on a famous old tree in his own garden in Bac Ninh Province.

To his surprise, a new tree sprang from his clever combination, giving more fruits than single trees, with better taste and thicker pulps.

Vui owns 2.7 sao (about 1,000sq.m) of longan garden. Before the change, he generally pulled in about VND1 million in profit, now he gets VND18 million.

Vui is now carrying out a project with others to spread grafting practice across the country.

in the last five years, Vui has grafted about 2,000 trees in Thuan Thanh, Que Vo, Gia Binh (Bac Ninh), Lai Cach, Cam Giang (Hai Duong), as well as Hung Yen, Hoa Binh and Ha Noi.

According to initial data from Ngu Thai Commune, Thuan Thanh District, 280 households are applying Vui’s method and are reporting harvests as big as 40 tonnes, generating hundreds of millions in profit.

Farmer, Nguyen Thi Chi, in Bui Xa Village, Ngu Thai Commune has about two hundred 40 or 50-year-old Hung Yen longan trees. She considered chopping the trees down before she heard about Vui’s method. She’s glad she didn’t now.

Thanks to his method, Chi did well last year. “One of my trees produced about 200kg of the fruit,” she gushed.

“Other farmers regretted chopping the trees, I was much luckier than them,” she said.

Vui is doing big business in the central province of Thanh Hoa where farmers in Bim Son Town have asked him to graft 6ha of longan.

The deal between Vui and the farmers is pretty decent. Vui helps the farmers with grafting. He doesn’t take any payment from the farmers until they begin to make money from selling the fruit.

According to Vui, there are thousands of hectares of longan in Thanh Hoa but none of them are producing to their true potential.

Ten years ago, national reforestation blanketed the area with leafy, green longan trees. But now, the farmers are exhausted with little to no profit for their work.

“Farmers there are poor, but they need not be”, said Vui. “I will help them become rich.”

“I also try to grow pineapple with the longan and farmers there can benefit from both,” Vui said.

He said the farmers will have their first harvest this August.

Vui’s grafting methods are as unique as they are controversial.

He grafts in the winter while all other farmers do it in summer.

“No one trusted my method when I first applied it. Even some of my friends as agriculture experts,” said Vui. “They told me I was crazy and wasting my time.”

Those people don’t fully appreciate that Vui dedicated 10 years researching and experimenting with techniques.

“I am the only person in Viet Nam to study the longan tree. I love the fruit and know that it can bring benefits,” he said.

Vui’s winter grafting prevents an overlap between harvesting and grafting.

Doctor Tran Dinh Long, Chairman of the Viet Nam Seeds Association gave high praise to Vui’s technology, saying that it was an impressive and effective way to improve the longan trees.

Farmers everywhere are scrambling to work with Vui.

Vui intends to capitalise on this popularity. “I will soon have a national centre with staff to work with longan trees all over the country,” he said.

(Source: VNS)

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