HANOI – The profession of picking bamboo leaves of the people of Dong Chiem village (An Phu, My Duc) has existed for more than 30 years, helping them to eliminate hunger, reduce poverty and raise their children to be educated.
Bach Thi Phi (50 years old) tied her hair up and started the engine, along with her husband Dang Van Duong ran nearly ten kilometers to the poplar forest, starting a day of picking leaves as they have done for more than 30 years. Leaves are low they with hand-picked. Leaves on high, they use a long pole, and tie the sickle down. The deeper into the forest, the thicker the leaves, so Phi and her husband wear gloves and tight-fitting coats to avoid the leaves from cutting their faces.
“Not all kinds of bamboo leaves can be sold. The leaves are used to wrap cakes, so they need to be not too old, not too young, not scorched, the bigger the leaves, the more beautiful the color, the higher the price will be,” she said.
The couple stacked and tied the leaves into bundles and stuffed them into sacks. In the forest, more than a dozen other Dong Chiem villagers also started their day like them. In the forest all day, everyone holds rice, sticky rice and enough drinking water for breakfast and lunch.
“My family’s two hectares of land in the Buong (bamboo) forest dates from the time when our grandparents reclaimed it. We used to grow cassava and potatoes, but since bamboo leaves sell for money, we reserve the land for this tree to grow. “, said Phi, who had just picked the leaves.
Every year at the beginning of the year, harvest all the leaves, she distributes them all once so that the tree can sprout new branches, and the leaves next year will be bigger and more abundant. The landless families in the forest had to scatter everywhere in search of leaves.
In the afternoon, when two sacks were full of poplar leaves, Phi and her husband carried them on their backs and walked down the mountain. The road is steep, rocky, their feet are slow, their toes are bent, clinging to the pavement. It was winter, but their clothes were wet as if they had just been soaked in water.
The pickled leaves are dipped in fresh water, then imported to the dealer, priced at 12,000-14,000 VND per kg, depending on the quality. On December 15, Phi and her husband picked 60 kg of fresh leaves, totaling more than 800,000 VND.($1=25,000 VND)
“This profession only takes effort, does not take capital, gives a dozen times more income than growing rice. In the main crop from June to August, my wife and I earn an average of more than one million a day,” said Ms. Phi.
The profession of picking leaves in An Phu dates back to the early 1990s. At that time, Mrs. Dang Thi Trieu, a villager from Dong Chiem village, saw villagers in Phu Hien village, Hop Thanh commune picking leaves from the forest to sell to traders, improving their income. At leisure, you should learn how to handle fresh leaves, hook up with merchants, hoping to escape poverty.
A few years later, when she was sure about drying techniques and found a big purchase, Ms. Trieu discussed with her husband to borrow 500,000 VND (at that time more than a gold coin) from the Commune Women’s Union as capital. From there, she went around the village, outside the commune to Luong Son and Kim Boi districts (Hoa Binh province), to Phu Tho, Yen Bai, Ha Giang to buy bamboo leaves and buy specialized drying ovens.
Trading gradually became famous, many people in the village brought their own leaves to sell. Many times leaves piled up, filling the house, Ms. Trieu had to hire dozens of workers to dry and sort finished products. After drying leaves are exported to Japan, China… On average, each crop, her facility exports 100-200 tons of leaves, the annual revenue is estimated at several billion dong. In Dong Chiem, in addition to Mrs. Trieu’s family, now there are 2 more households opening agents to collect leaves.
According to the Import-Export Department (Ministry of Industry and Trade), in the first eight months of 2022, Vietnam collects a large amount of foreign currency from selling all kinds of leaves, which are used only for animal feed or discarded. In August alone, Vietnam’s exports of leaves reached $1.1 million, up 35.8% over the same period last year. In general, in 8 months, Vietnam earned more than 6 million USD from exporting banana leaves, bamboo leaves, etc. The export value of bamboo leaves alone in 8 months was 1,092 million USD.
On foreign e-commerce sites like Alibaba, Vietnamese bamboo leaves are often wholesale, priced at 3-5 USD per kg. Retail price from 7-10 USD kg. Currently, the price of Vietnamese bamboo leaves is the most competitive compared to other exporting countries such as India and Japan.
On average, each month, Phi and her husband earn about 20 million from this bamboo leaf picking. The job of picking leaves helps her and her husband raise three children to study and build two solid two-storey houses. “Until now, this is still my family’s main income, besides more than an acre of rice,” she said.
Bamboo leaves also help Mrs. Trieu’s family change their life, have money to save and raise four children to study and become a human. In addition to doing business, she also creates jobs for dozens of people in villages and neighboring provinces by purchasing fresh leaves and hiring production workers.
Bringing income, but bamboo leaf riders also have to trade a lot. Many times, Phi and her husband encountered snakes and centipedes in the forest. But the biggest fear for them is to bring sacks of leaves heavier than their body weight, from above. “In the winter, it’s less tiring to go to the harvest, in the summer to carry a heavy load makes me exhausted. Every three days, the couple will take a day off to regain their strength,” she said.
Ms. Dang Thi Chau, 52 years old, has been picking bamboo leaves since she was 20 years old. Every morning the couple went to the forest together. But at an advanced age, she had to walk nearly ten kilometers every day, carry heavy loads, and climb over many rocky roads, so for 10 years, Chau quit her job and switched to selling groceries. “Children now go to the city to work, only the elderly and middle-aged go to the forest to pick leaves,” she said.
Mr. Bui Van Chuyen, Chairman of An Phu Commune People’s Committee, said that picking leaves is one of the side jobs in the commune, helping people have more income in their leisure time. However, the dangerous job due to climbing high and dangerous forest becomes the government discourages people from doing the job.
“A few years ago, there were local people who died climbing and picking leaves, so the villagers were more afraid, and many people also quit their jobs,” said Mr. Chuyen.
Photo: Internet (vinlove.net)