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Champassak couple reap rewards of vegetable farming in Vientiane

Not knowing anything about growing vegetables after a life spent in rice fields, a man who started out as a farmer in Champassak province has made his fortune growing Chinese kale in Vientiane.
He and his wife have been so successful in their new undertaking that they have been able to pay for their daughter’s university education.
Tanned and slim, Mr Khone Vansily, 49, and his wife, 45, left their home in Champassak about seven years ago and took up vegetable farming in Vientiane because they could not make enough money in their hometown.

Mr Khone Vansily and his wife and their Chinese kale crop.

The move proved to be the right choice. Mr Khone’s lack of education and experience in vegetable farming were not a problem because he had some good friends who were able to help him with every stage of setting up a new farm.
He and his wife came to Vientiane with fairly empty pockets and made their home in a hut that was built by the landowner and contained only basic household equipment. Despite their discomfort they were confident they could make a decent living.
They had no knowledge of growing crops commercially as the rice they had grown before was purely for family consumption.
Mr Khone began by grow many kinds of vegetables which he planted on about two rai of land.
But of course he needed money to buy seedlings, fertiliser and insecticide, and a pipe, and to pump water from the ground.
He didn’t have a problem initially but when it was time to sell the vegetables the market price for some of them was very low.
Farmers can never predict with certainty when prices will rise and fall - they just hope they’re lucky and that not too many other farmers will have planted the same crops.
A year later Mr Khone decided to limit his crops to Chinese kale and lettuce in the dry season, and to grow mostly long beans and morning glory in the wet season.
“You can’t plan for or control the market price and we sometimes feel we’re cheated by the middlemen who buy the crop because they always tell us when the price is low but forget to tell us when it’s rising,” Mr Khone said.
After a few years Mr Khone and his wife became expert vegetable farmers but still encountered some problems in hot weather.
Now they know which crops grow well in the various seasons. Most thrive in cool weather except for morning glory and spinach, which do better during the rainy season.
Their two rai of land are now a sea of green after Chinese kale and lettuce were planted 25 days ago and are already big enough to sell. Now it’s time to call the vendors.
When the price is high they can get 10,000 kip per kilo but when it’s at rock bottom they can only sell the crop for 1,000 kip. On average Mr Khone and his wife earn two to six million kip a month.
They have now amassed some savings to provide for their family and pay for their children to go to school, with one daughter having already finished university.
They say that farm work is not really hard but they need to be up early as the morning is the best time to work. The afternoons are just too hot to be out in the field.
They water the vegetables every morning and evening. Weeds and grass need to be removed before they grow higher than the plants and the ground needs to be ploughed. They have to apply fertiliser, using both chemical and organic varieties, and have to spray insecticide when pests appear.
Khone and his wife do not always farm organically but they try to use organic fertiliser such as chicken and pig manure and rice husks, as they are good for the soil.
They learnt that the biggest outlay occurred at the beginning of their venture because most of what they bought could be used for many years.
Khone doesn’t have to buy all of the seedlings he needs as he takes seeds from his existing crop, which saves him money, and he never gets into debt.
He often feels he’s given an unfair price by middlemen but does not know how else he can sell his crop, so he has to accept what he’s offered.
Even though they can earn a good income in Vientiane, Khone and his wife sometimes miss home and think about returning one day if they could grow vegetables and find a market there.


 

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update December 2, 2017)

 

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