INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Science, Determination, and Charity Improve Lives in Vietnam's Mekong Delta in Big and Small Ways

Published: Tue 11 Jul 2000 04:04 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
110404Z Jul 00
2000HOCHI01121 - UNCLASSIFIED
UNCLASSIFIED PTQ4953
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ACTION EAP-00
INFO LOG-00 NP-00 AID-00 CEA-01 CG-00 CIAE-00 CTME-00
DINT-00 DOEE-00 SRPP-00 DS-00 EB-00 ED-01 EXME-00
EUR-00 E-00 UTED-00 FMC-02 VC-00 FRB-00 HHS-01
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NFAT-00 SAS-00 /014W
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FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 3371
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI
NSC WASHDC
USDOC WASHDC
DEPTTREAS WASHDC
AMCONSUL HONG KONG
AMEMBASSY BEIJING
ASEAN COLLECTIVE
USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI//FPA//
SECDEF WASHDC
DIA WASHDC
USDA FAS WASHDC
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 07 HO CHI MINH CITY 001121
SIPDIS
STATE ALSO FOR EAP/BCLTV AND EAP/PD
UNCLASSIFIED
PAGE 02 HO CHI 01121 01 OF 07 110409Z
STATE ALSO FOR EB/IFD/ODF AND EB/TPP/BTA
STATE ALSO PASS AID/ANE - SOULES, ANDERSON
STATE ALSO PASS USTR/DAMOND/BALASSA/KLEIN
STATE ALSO PASS OPIC, EXIM BANK AND TDA
NSC ALSO FOR RAVIC HUSO
SECDEF ALSO FOR ISA/EA/LSTERN
DEPTTREAS ALSO FOR OASIA/AJEWELL
USDOC ALSO FOR 4431/MAC/AP/OKSA/HPPHO
USDA FAS FOR FAA/AO/SSAP/HUETE; ITP/ODA/SHEIKH;
AS/ITP/AAD/DEATON/HUYNH
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR TBIO PGOV SOCI ENRG EWWT EAID KIPR ETRD VM KDTB
SUBJECT: SCIENCE, DETERMINATION, AND CHARITY IMPROVE LIVES IN VIETNAM'S MEKONG DELTA IN BIG AND SMALL WAYS
REF: 98 HANOI 3498 (98 HCMC 242)
1. SUMMARY. IN POOR POCKETS OF THE MEKONG DELTA, AWAY
FROM THE LIMELIGHT, THERE ARE PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS,
VIETNAMESE AND FOREIGN, WHO ARE DEDICATED TO IMPROVING
THEIR OWN AND OTHER'S LIVES. CONGEN STAFF VISITED
VIETNAM'S MAIN RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, PRIVATE
ELECTRICITY AND WATER SUPPLIERS, A COCONUT CANDY MAKER WHO
ENFORCED HER TRADEMARK IN CHINA, SUCCESSFUL COCONUT AND
DURIAN GROWERS, AND A SPARKLING NEW HOME FOR ORPHANS,
ABANDONED AND ABUSED CHILDREN IN CAN THO AND BEN TRE
PROVINCES. POST OFFERS THE SMALL ECONOMIC AND HUMAN
INTEREST STORIES IN THIS MESSAGE AS GLIMPSES OF THE SPIRIT
OF THE VIETNAMESE PEOPLE, WHO WILL WORK WITH THEIR
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PAGE 03 HO CHI 01121 01 OF 07 110409Z
GOVERNMENT OR ANYONE ELSE WHO CAN HELP, AND GO AROUND,
IGNORE, OR CRITICIZE ANYONE WHO CAN'T OR WON'T. END
SUMMARY.
RICE RESEARCHERS HELP SKEPTICAL FARMERS, BENEFIT EXPORTERS
--------------------------------------------- -------------
2. CONGEN STAFF MET WITH DR. BUI CHI BUU OF THE CUU LONG
RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE (CLRRI), STARTED IN 1977 WITH
BILATERAL AID FROM INDIA. 37 OUT OF 110 STAFF SCIENTISTS
HAVE ADVANCED DEGREES; CURRENTLY, THREE POSTDOCTORAL
STUDENTS ARE AT PURDUE, TEXAS TECH, AND TEXAS A CLRRI
MISSION OBJECTIVES ARE: 1) TO STUDY RICE AND RICE-BASED
AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS IN THE DELTA, WHICH PRODUCES 60
PERCENT OF VIETNAM'S RICE AND 80 PERCENT OF ITS RICE
EXPORTS; 2) TO TRAIN EXTENSION WORKERS AND OTHER SKILLED
WORKERS FOR THE DELTA; AND 3) TO FOSTER INTERNATIONAL
COLLABORATION. ADMINISTRATIVELY, CLRRI IS UNDER THE
MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT (MARD).
CLRRI'S ANNUAL BUDGET IS APPROXIMATELY USD 500,000,
SUPPLEMENTED BY CONTRACT RESEARCH. ACCORDING TO THE
MEDIA, PROFITS MADE PRODUCING RICE SEEDLINGS ON CLRRI LAND
ARE USED TO AUGMENT STAFF SALARIES.
3. IN 1999 THE MEKONG DELTA PRODUCED 16.5 MILLION METRIC
TONS OF RICE AND HAD AN AVERAGE YIELD OF 4.8 TONS PER
HECTACRE. RICE IS GROWN ON 1.7 MILLION HECTARES OF DELTA
LAND, SOMEWHAT LESS THAN 15 YEARS AGO. HOWEVER,
PRODUCTION HAS MORE THAN DOUBLED SINCE THE LATE 1970'S DUE
TO IMPROVED MULTIPLE CROPPING AND MORE SUITABLE RICE
VARIETIES, WITH CLRRI PLAYING A KEY ROLE CREATING NEW
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VARIETIES AND TESTING OTHERS. MOST FARMERS IN THE DELTA
GROW TWO RICE CROPS, THE MAIN SUMMER-AUTUMN CROP (JUNE TO
SEPTEMBER) AND THE WINTER-SPRING CROP (NOVEMBER TO
FEBRUARY). SOME GROW A THIRD, SPRING-SUMMER CROP (MARCH
TO JUNE), IF THERE IS SUFFICIENT IRRIGATION. IN FACT,
GROWING SEASONS ARE ACUTALLY MORE COMPLICATED, ACCORDING
TO BUI, AND IT IS SOMETIMES POSSIBLE TO SEE PADDY IN ALL
GROWTH STAGES AT THE SAME TIME IN THE SAME AREA. THE
INPUT COST PER KILOGRAM OF PADDY FOR THE WINTER/SPRING AND
SPRING/SUMMER CROPS IS VND 800-1,000 (USD 0.06-0.07).
INPUT COSTS FOR THE SUMMER/AUTUMN CROP OF VND 1,600-1,700
(USD 0.11-0.12) ARE MUCH HIGHER, BUT SO ARE THE YIELDS.
BUI SAID CLRRI IN FACT RECOMMENDS PLANTING SOYBEANS
INSTEAD OF A THIRD RICE CROP TO MAINTAIN SOIL QUALITY, BUT
FARMERS DON'T FOLLOW ITS ADVICE BECAUSE RICE PRICES ARE
NORMALLY MUCH HIGHER.
4. CLRRI HAS SUCCESSFULLY PRODUCED HIGH-YIELD VARIETIES.
HOWEVER, FARMERS TYPICALLY USE SEED FROM THE PREVIOUS CROP
FOR THE NEXT ONE, AT NO COST, WHICH RESULTS IN SEED
DEGENERATION. CLRRI HAS ALSO FOCUSED ON LOWERING INPUT
COSTS, WHICH IN NOMINAL DONG TERMS HAVE DOUBLED OVER THE
LAST TEN YEARS. IN 1999, IT ADAPTED LEAF CHARTS TO REDUCE
THE USE OF NITROGENOUS FERTILIZERS AND DEVELOPED A RICE
SEEDER TO CUT SEED COSTS IN HALF OVER THE TRADITIONAL
BROADCASTING METHOD. DESPITE CLRRI'S SUCCESSES, BUI SAID
DELTA RICE FARMERS TREAT ITS RECOMMENDATIONS SKEPTICALLY,
AND IT WOULD TAKE TWO YEARS FOR THE LEAF CHARTS AND
SEEDERS TO CATCH ON. BUI ALSO HOPED FOR THE SUCCESS OF A
DANISH-FUNDED PROJECT WHICH HAS HELPED INSTALL OVER 5,000
SMALL RICE DRYERS IN CAN THO AND SOC TRANG PROVINCES.
ONLY FIVE PERCENT OF DELTA RICE FARMERS USE RICE DRIERS,
SINCE THE COSTS OF DRYERS ARE NOT SEEN TO BE WORTH THE
REDUCTION IN SPOILAGE AND INCREASED PRICE FOR HIGHER
QUALITY. DELTA RICE FARMERS ONLY EARNED AN AVERAGE OF
USD 700 PER HOUSEHOLD IN 1999. THE REAL BENEFICIARIES OF
CLRRI'S WORK, SAID BUI, HAVE BEEN RICE EXPORTERS, WHO "DO
NOT INVEST IN ANYTHING."
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ELECTRICITY RE-SELLERS CHARGE ABOVE THE LEGAL LIMIT
--------------------------------------------- ------
5. THE GVN HAS SET RURAL HOUSEHOLD ELECTRICITY PRICES
CHARGED BY ELECTRICITY OF VIETNAM (EVN) AT VND 500 (3.6
CENTS) PER KILOWATT-HOUR (KWH) FOR THE FIRST 100 KWH PER
MONTH, RISING TO VND 1,397 (10.0 CENTS) FOR CONSUMPTION
OVER 300 KWH. IN SEPTEMBER 1999 ONLY 77 PERCENT OF
VIETNAM'S RURAL DISTRICTS HAD ELECTRICITY. ALTHOUGH EACH
OF CAN THO PROVINCE'S SIX DISTRICTS AND CAN THO CITY HAVE
ELECTRICITY, AT THE END OF 1999 ONLY 68 PERCENT OF
HOUSEHOLDS WERE HOOKED UP. CONGEN STAFF MET WITH DO HUU
TRONG, DIRECTOR OF THE TAN PHU COMMUNE EVN STATION IN
RURAL CHAU THANH DISTRICT. EVN'S GRID EXTENDS TO THE MAIN
VILLAGE IN ALL CHAU THANH'S 13 COMMUNES, BUT NOT TO THE
NUMEROUS HAMLETS. IN TAN PHU, CHAU THANH'S MOST WELL-OFF
COMMUNE, THE PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE INVESTED IN TRANSFORMERS
AND DISTRIBUTION LINES, AND RE-SELLS ELECTRICITY BOUGHT
FROM EVN TO 3,000 HOUSEHOLDS AT AN AVERAGE OF VND 1,000
(7.1 CENTS) PER KWH. AN AUSTRALIAN INVESTOR HAS DONE A
FEASIBILITY STUDY TO SUPPLY FIVE TO SEVEN THOUSAND
HOUSEHOLDS IN ANOTHER COMMUNE IN CHAU THANH AT VND 1,100-
1,400 (7.9 CENTS TO 10 CENTS) PER KWH.
6. RURAL EVN CUSTOMERS PAY A HOOK-UP CHARGE FROM VND
800,000 TO 1,200,000 (USD 57 TO USD 86) AND AN AVERAGE
RATE OF VND 360 (2.6 CENTS) PER KWH. THE GVN HAS SET A
CEILING PRICE OF VND 700 (5.0 CENTS) PER KWH FOR RE-
SELLERS, WHOSE CUSTOMERS DO NOT PAY A HOOK-UP CHARGE. IN
PRACTICE, HOWEVER, PRIVATE RE-SELLERS STRIKE AGREEMENTS
WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO SELL AT HIGHER THAN THE LEGAL
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RATE, AND SOME LOCAL GOVERNMENTS THEMSELVES, SUCH AS IN
TAN PHU, ALSO SELL AT A HIGHER RATE. A GVN SURVEY IN 1998
SHOWED 39 PERCENT OF RURAL HOUSEHOLDS PAID MORE THAN THE
LEGAL RATE, WITH PRICES IN SOME LOCALITIES AS HIGH AS 15
CENTS PER KWH. TRONG ATTRIBUTED ALLOWING A HIGHER PRICE
TO "BAD MANAGEMENT." IN FACT, EVN WAS TRYING TO GET TAN
PHU TO CUT ITS PRICE, HE SAID, BUT THE RISK WAS THAT THE
CABLES WOULD BE CUT INSTEAD. TRONG ALSO SAID THE
AUSTRALIAN INVESTOR HAD THE SUPPORT OF THE CAN THO
PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE. AS ONE ARTICLE ON ELECTRICITY
DISTRIBUTION IN VIETNAM HAS PUT IT, "THE GOVERNMENT IS
CAUGHT IN THE USUAL SPOT BETWEEN THE ROCK OF NEEDING TO
IMPROVE INFRASTRUCTURE AND THE HARD PLACE OF HAVING NO
MONEY TO DO THE JOB."
7. CONGEN STAFF SPOKE TO A TAN PHU CUSTOMER, WHO SAID
AFTER SHE STARTED RECEIVING ELECTRICITY IN 1990, BUSINESS
GOT BETTER AND LIFE BECAME MORE COMFORTABLE. NOW, SHE CAN
PRODUCE TWO SETS OF CLOTHES PER DAY IN HER TAILOR SHOP,
OPENED A KARAOKE ROOM FOR CUSTOMERS, AND HAS ELECTRICAL
APPLIANCES SUCH AS A WASHING MACHINE, TELEVISION,
REFRIGERATOR, AND A RICE COOKER. SHE SAID IN FACT, SHE
PAID THE RESELLER VND 800 (5.7 CENTS) PER KHW FOR
ELECTRICITY AND ANOTHER VND 600 (4.3 CENTS) PER KHW FOR
"MAINTENANCE." SHE SAID SHE CAREFULLY MONITORED HER
ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION; IF THE PRICE OF ELECTRICITY WENT
UP, SHE'D USE LESS, AND IF IT WENT DOWN, SHE'D USE MORE.
8. IN ANOTHER MODEL FOR RURAL ELECTRIFICATION BEYOND EVN'S
GRID, 135 HOUSEHOLDS IN TAN PHU ORGANIZED AN ELECTRICITY
BUYING COOPERATIVE. THEY BOUGHT THEIR OWN TRANSFORMER AND
EACH PAID VARYING AMOUNTS TO HOOK-UP DEPENDING ON THEIR
LOCATION. INDIVIDUALS PAY AN AVERAGE OF VND 580 (4.1
CENTS) PER KILOWATT HOUR. THEIR ACTUAL BILL IS BASED ON
DISTANCE FROM THE GRID, NOT CONSUMPTION, SINCE THE
COOPERATIVE'S CONSUMPTION IS METERED AS A GROUP. IN A
VARIATION ON THIS MODEL, THE GROUP LEADER INVESTS TO HOOK
UP PRIVATE CUSTOMERS OUTSIDE THE COOPERATIVE. THE
COOPERATIVE LEADER IN TAN PHU BELIEVED THAT PEOPLE IN CHAU
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PAGE 03 HO CHI 01121 03 OF 07 110730Z
THANH DISTRICT WHO DO NOT HAVE ELECTRICITY YET WOULD BE
WILLING TO PAY EVEN TWICE WHAT HIS MEMBERS PAY FOR
ELECTRICITY OR EVEN HIGHER, "UP TO A CERTAIN PRICE."
PRIVATE WATER SUPPLIER BUMPS UP AGAINST OWN SUCCESS
--------------------------------------------- ------
9. EVEN FEWER RURAL VIETNAMESE HOUSEHOLDS HAVE ACCESS TO
"CLEAN" WATER -- JUST 32 PERCENT ACCORDING TO MARD -- THAN
TO ELECTRICITY. AS WITH ELECTRICITY, A LACK OF CAPITAL
HAS FORCED THE GVN TO ENCOURAGE COOPERATIVES AND PRIVATE
INVESTMENT. PRIVATE COMPANIES SUPPLIED WATER TO 4,000
HOUSEHOLDS IN BEN TRE PROVINCE IN 1999 AND HAD INVESTED
USD 1.4 MILLION, MORE THAN STATE INVESTMENT IN WATER
SUPPLY. VO VAN THUY'S TAN AN PRIVATE COMPANY HAS FOUR
WATER FILTERING PLANTS IN RURAL BEN TRE AND NEIGHBORING
VINH LONG PROVINCE. THUY, WHO HAD MONEY TO INVEST EARNED
FROM BUYING AND TRANSPORTING LOGS IN CENTRAL VIETNAM,
FIRST SAW DEMAND FOR WATER AS A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY IN
HIS NATIVE VINH LONG IN 1996. FRIENDS FROM VINH LONG'S
WATER SUPPLY COMPANY HELPED WITH THE DESIGN.
10. TAN AN'S CUSTOMERS IN TINH THANH COMMUNE OF CHO LACH
DISTRICT PAY VND 2,500 (18 CENTS) PER CUBIC METER OF WATER
IF THEY PAY FOR THE CONNECTING PIPELINES TO THEIR HOMES,
OF VND 3,500 (25 CENTS) PER CUBIC METER IF TAN AN PAYS FOR
HOOK-UP. THE BEN TRE WATER SUPPLY COMPANIES CHARGES
INDIVIDUAL CUSTOMERS VND 2,200 (16 CENTS), BUT CHARGES
OTHER CUSTOMERS TWO HIGHER PRICES. TAN AN'S PRICE AND ANY
CHANGES ARE SUBJECT TO THE APPROVAL OF BEN TRE'S
DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE. THE DEPARTMENT AGREED TO TAN AN'S
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PAGE 04 HO CHI 01121 03 OF 07 110730Z
HIGHER PRICE FOR INDIVIDUAL CUSTOMERS OVER THE PROTESTS OF
THE TINH THANH PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE BECAUSE TAN AN HAS TO
COVER A CORPORATE PROFIT TAX OF 32 PERCENT.
11. THUY SAID HE IS NOT WORRIED ABOUT THE BEN TRE
GOVERNMENT TAKING OVER HIS CUSTOMERS AS PUBLIC WATER
SUPPLY EVENTUALLY EXPANDS, BECAUSE IT IS INEFFICIENT. THE
TWO 100 CUBIC METER-PER-DAY WATER PLANTS IN CHO LACH
DISTRICT BUILT BY THE BEN TRE GOVERNMENT COST BETWEEN USD
14,300 AND USD 17,900 TO BUILD AND WOULD ONLY HAVE COST
THUY USD 10,700. (IN FEBRUARY 2000 THE BEN TRE PEOPLE'S
COMMITTEE SUSPENDED THE BEN TRE WATER SUPPPLY COMPANY'S
DIRECTOR AND CHIEF ACCOUNTANT FOR, AMONG OTHER THINGS,
"ILLEGAL COLLECTION AND SPENDING OF USD 100,000.) THUY'S
PLANTS, WHICH ONLY REQUIRE ONE WORKER FOUR HOURS PER DAY
TO OPERATE, BREAK EVEN AFTER 4-5 YEARS AND WILL LAST 30
YEARS.
12. THUY WANTS TO (###)
PLANTS. HE MADE PROPOSALS TO VINH LONG AND TRA VINH
PROVINCES, BUT BOTH PREFERRED TO WAIT FOR FOREIGN DONORS
TO FUND MORE EXPENSIVE WATER PLANTS. (COMMENT: FOR
EXAMPLE, A DUTCH-FUNDED WATER SUPPLY AND DRAINAGE SYSTEM
IN DONG THAP PROVINCE SUPPLYING 10,200 CUBIC METERS OF
WATER PER DAY COST USD 5.5 MILLION. END COMMENT.) THUY
DOES NOT WANT TO BUILD MORE COMMUNE-LEVEL WATER PLANTS IN
BEN TRE PROVINCE BECAUSE HE IS ALREADY SERVING THE THREE
COMMUNES WITH THE STRONGEST DEMAND, AND HE IS CONCERNED
THAT HIS KNOWN SUCCESS WOULD RESULT IN UNACCEPTABLY HIGH
LAND LEASE COSTS.
NOTE: (##)OMISSION IN PARA 12. CORRECTION WILL FOLLOW.
COCONUT AND DURIAN DREAMS
-------------------------
13. RIVERINE BEN TRE PROVINCE IS VIETNAM'S COCONUT
CAPITAL, WITH 30,000 HECTARES AND ANNUAL PRODUCTION OF 200-
220 MILLION COCONUTS. TRADERS FROM HCMC AND HANOI
CONVERGED ON BEN TRE IN 1995 TO BUY UP HAND-MADE COCONUT
CANDY FOR EXPORT TO CHINA, STIMULATING THE CREATION OF
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MORE THAN 100 SMALL COMPANIES. PRODUCTION ROSE TO 7 TONS
PER DAY, THOUSANDS OF WORKERS WERE EMPLOYED, AND THE
PROVINCE EARNED USD 10 MILLION. BY 1997, CHINESE
BUSINESSES IN HAINAN HAD HIRED AWAY SKILLED WORKERS FROM
BEN TRE AND STARTED MAKING THEIR OWN COCONUT CANDY. BEN
TRE'S CANDY EXPORT REVENUES FELL TO USD 300,000. IN 1999,
DEMAND FROM CHINA (MOSTLY FOR COCONUT JUICE BUT ALSO FOR
CANDY) AND THAILAND RAISED THE PRICE OF COCONUTS IN BEN
TRE TO VND 29,000 (USD 2.07) PER DOZEN. ALTHOUGH THIS WAS
GOOD FOR EXPORTERS OF UNPROCESSED AND SEMI-PROCESSED
COCONUT PRODUCTS -- COCONUT EXPORTS WERE OVER USD 10
MILLION IN 1999 -- IT FURTHER HARMED THE COCONUT CANDY AND
OTHER COCONUT PROCESSING INDUSTRIES. THESE INCLUDE
COCONUT OIL, CHARCOAL, JUICE, HANDICRAFTS, AND
CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS. BY LATE 1999, ONLY 27 CANDY
MAKERS, 6 OF 33 OIL PRODUCERS, AND 30 OF 55 CHARCOAL
PRODUCERS WERE STILL OPERATING.
14. CONGEN STAFF CALLED ON MS. PHAM THI TO, WHOSE
BESPECTACLED IMAGE ADORNS HER BRANDED "BEN TRE COCONUT
CANDY," FOR WHICH SHE REGISTERED HER TRADEMARK IN 1988.
ABANDONED BY HER HUSBAND AND LEFT WITH EIGHT YOUNG
CHILDREN, MS. TO'S FORTUNES BEGAN TO CHANGE IN 1976 WHEN
SHE LEARNED HOW TO MAKE COCONUT CANDY, IMPROVED THE
RECIPE, AND MUCH LATER MECHANIZED PRODUCTION. SINCE THE
GOVERNMENT STRICTLY CONTROLLED RICE, SUGAR, AND COCONUTS,
HER MAIN INGREDIENTS, SHE CONDUCTED BUSINESS UNDERGROUND
AND INTERMITTENTLY FOR 12 YEARS. BY 1988, WHEN THE GVN
BEGAN TO IMPLEMENT THE DOI MOI POLICY, MS. TO RECEIVED A
LOAN FROM THE LOCAL WOMEN'S UNION AND EXPANDED HER
BUSINESS. (SHE HAS MOSTLY SELF-FINANCED AND HAS NEVER HAD
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PAGE 04 HO CHI 01121 04 OF 07 110410Z
A BANK LOAN.) OTHER FACTORIES IN BEN TRE AND HAININ ARE
HER IMITATORS.
15. IT WAS ONE OF MS. TO'S AGENTS WHO INTRODUCED HER CANDY
TO THE CHINESE MARKET. WHEN HER SALES TO CHINA DROPPED
OFF FROM A PEAK OF 400 TONS PER MONTH, MS. TO TRAVELLED TO
CHINA IN 1998 AND A DISCOVERED ONE HAINAN COMPANY
IMITATING HER TRADEMARK AND PACKAGING. (THE CHINESE
COMPANY DIRECTOR WAS MARRIED TO A VIETNAMESE WOMAN FROM
BEN TRE, AND THEY HAD HIRED AWAY A TECHNICIAN FROM MS.
TO.) TRAVELLING TO CHINA AGAIN, SHE FILED PETITIONS TO
REGISTER HER TRADEMARK THERE AND TO PROHIBIT ITS MISUSE BY
HER CHINESE COMPETITOR, CULMINATING IN A SUCCESSFUL
ENFORCEMENT ACTION AGAINST THE INFRINGER IN 1999.
ALTHOUGH HER SALES WERE STILL DOWN 80 TONS PER MONTH AND
HER WORKFORCE DOWN TO 400 FROM A HIGH OF 1,000 WORKERS,
MS. TO WAS OPTIMISTIC SHE THEY WOULD SOON BE BACK AT THEIR
1995-1997 LEVELS.
16. MOST COCONUT FARMERS PRODUCE A LOW-YIELD VARIETY
DESPITE THE AVAILABILITY OF HIGH-YIELD HYBRIDS. MOST
SURVIVE ON INCOMES OF LITTLE MORE THAN VND 1.0 MILLION
(USD 71) PER YEAR, EXTREME POVERTY EVEN BY VIETNAMESE
STANDARDS. CONGEN STAFF VISITED MR. DO THANH THUONG,
DUBBED VIETNAM'S COCONUT KING AFTER WINNING A PRIZE FROM
THE ASIA PACIFIC COCONUT COUNCIL (APCC) FOR HIS TECHNIQUES
FOR TRANSPLANTING HYBRID COCONUT TREES DEVELOPED BY THE
GVN'S VEGETABLE OIL RESEARCH INSTITUTE. THE PB-121 HYBRID
HAS HIGHER YIELDS, GREATER FAT CONTENT, AND BEARS FRUIT
EARLIER. THUONG DARED TO REPLACE HIS TREES WITH THE
HYBRID IN 1995 ON HIS 2.5 HECTARES OF LAND AT A TIME WHEN
HIS NEIGHBORS WERE CUTTING DOWN THEIR TREES BECAUSE OF LOW
PROFITS. A 63-YEAR-OLD GRADUATE IN PHYSICS, THUONG
COMPLAINED THAT ALTHOUGH HE WAS INVITED TO TRAVEL ABROAD
TO ACCEPT APCC PRIZE, A STATE COMPANY OFFICIAL WAS SENT TO
COLLECT IT FOR HIM. COCONUT PRICES HAD DROPPED WAY DOWN
AGAIN IN 2000 FROM THEIR 1999 PEAK AND WERE NOW VND 13,000
(93 CENTS) PER DOZEN.
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PAGE 03 HO CHI 01121 05 OF 07 110411Z
17. EVEN AT THE PEAK, THUONG SAID, COCONUT FARMERS COULD
NOT EARN AS MUCH AS FROM PLANTING FRUIT TREES, ALTHOUGH
THE LATTER REQUIRED MORE INVESTMENT AND WAS HARDER WORK.
COCONUT FARMERS WERE AT THE MERCY OF TRADERS, WHO DIVIDED
UP THE MARKET AND COLLUDED WITH EACH OTHER, AND WOULD BE
BETTER OFF IF THEY COULD MARKET THEIR OWN OUTPUT OR SELL
DIRECTLY TO PROCESSING FACTORIES, HE THOUGHT. THEIR
BIGGEST PROBLEM WAS NEVER KNOWING THE CURRENT MARKET
PRICE. THE GOVERNMENT HAD NOT BEEN OF ANY USE IN
PROVIDING PRICE INFORMATION, AND EVEN ITS AGRICULTURAL
EXTENSION WORKERS LEARNED MORE FROM THE FARMERS THAN
HELPED THE FARMERS. THE DONG GO COCONUT RESEARCH CENTER
IN BEN TRE DID NOT SEEM TO BE DOING MUCH, AND THUONG AND
HIS NEIGHBORS CONDUCTED THEIR OWN SOIL ANALYSIS FOR
DIVERSIFICATION INTO OTHER FRUIT CROPS. (COMMENT: THE
DONG GO CENTER IS GROWING 47 STRAINS OF COCONUT WITH
FUNDING FROM FAO AND UNDP. END COMMENT.)
18. IN ADDITION TO THE COCONUT KING, BEN TRE IS ALSO HOME
TO VIETNAM'S DURIAN KING, NGUYEN KHOA CHIEN (NICKNAMED
CHIN HOA, BEING THE NINTH SON OF HIS PARENTS). IN 1978, A
SINGLE DURIAN TREE OF A NEARLY EXTINCT VARIETY REMAINED
AMONG THE OTHER DURIAN TREES ON THE FAMILY PROPERTY.
CHIEN SUCCEEDED IN GRAFTING SPRIGS FROM THIS RARE STRAIN
ONTO OTHER TREES, CREATING THE LOCALLY CHERISHED "FLAT
SEED DURIAN" OR "CHIN HOA DURIAN," WHICH IS SWEET
SMELLING, HAS THICK PULP, AND VERY SMALL SEEDS. HE THEN
WENT TO WORK ON PLANTING TREES GROWN FROM THIS HYBRID AND
SELLING SEEDLINGS PRODUCED FROM THE TREES, KEEPING UP TO
DATE ON CULTIVATION TECHNOLOGY, PROVIDING AFTER-SALES
TECHNICAL ADVICE, AND OBTAINING GOVERNMENT RECOGNITION OF
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PAGE 04 HO CHI 01121 05 OF 07 110411Z
HIS VARIETY. HIS DURIANS ARE SO POPULAR THAT HE RATIONS
SALES OF HIS OUTPUT TO FAVORED CUSTOMERS AND COULD GET
AWAY WITH CHARGING MUCH MORE IF CHOSE.
19. CHIEN'S AFTER-TAX ANNUAL INCOME FROM THE SALES OF 57
TONS OF DURIAN AND THOUSANDS OF SEEDLINGS IS OVER VND 1.0
BILLION (USD 714,000), MAKING HIM ONE OF THE RICHEST MEN
IN THE MEKONG DELTA (CERTAINLY AMONG THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER
WORKED FOR THE GOVERNMENT). HIS HOUSE IN CHO LACH
DISTRICT, HOWEVER, IS ON A NARROW, MUD TRAIL A KILOMETER
OFF THE MAIN ROAD AND STILL HAS A THATCHED ROOF AND HARD
MUD FLOOR. ACCORDING TO CHIEN, VIETNAM'S DURIANS, LIKE
THAILAND'S, CAN BE EXPORTED, SINCE THEY RIPEN FOR FOUR
DAYS AFTER HARVESTING AND REMAIN EDIBLE FOR A WEEK AFTER,
LONGER IF REFRIGERATED AND LONGER STILL IF FROZEN.
ALTHOUGH MORE FARMERS ARE PLANTING DURIAN CURRENTLY,
VOLUMES ARE NOT HIGH ENOUGH TO PRODUCE A STEADY SUPPLY FOR
EXPORT. DURIAN PRODUCTION IS EXPANDING IN BINH DUONG AND
BINH PHUOC PROVINCES, WHERE THE LAND IS BETTER AND THE
SOIL MORE SUITABLE FOR DURIANS. A COMPANY IN BUON ME
THUOT IN DAK LAK PROVINCE HAS PLANTED 4,000 TREES USING
CHIEN'S SEEDS AND PLANS TO EXPORT.
NICEST PLACE IN BEN TRE TOWN IS THE ORPHANAGE
---------------------------------------------
20. BEN TRE TOWN, THE CENTER OF BEN TRE PROVINCE, HAS NO
HOTELS OR RESTAURANTS AT A STANDARD WHICH WOULD APPEAL TO
FOREIGN VISITORS. THE PROVINCE, TRULY ONE OF VIETNAM'S
BACKWATERS, HAS RECEIVED SPECIAL ATTENTION FROM UNDP FOR
POVERTY ALLEVIATION (REF A). SO IT SEEMS A BIT ODD THAT
THE EEM GROUP OF FRANCE, OWNER OF THE SUCCESSFUL VICTORIA
CHAIN OF HOTELS IN SAPA, CAN THO, CHAU DOC, AND PHAN THIET
AND UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN HOI AN, HAS BEGUN CONSTRUCTION
OF A HOTEL IN TOWN. (THIS IS ONE OF ONLY TWO FOREIGN
INVESTMENTS IN ALL OF BEN TRE, AND THE OTHER ONE IS NOT
OPERATING YET, EITHER. EEM HAS WITHDRAWN FROM PLANS TO
ALSO BUILD AN ECO-TOURISM ISLAND RESORT IN A MEKONG RIVER
ESTUARY IN CHAU THANH DISTRICT IN BEN TRE.) VO VINH BINH,
UNCLASSIFIED
PAGE 03 HO CHI 01121 06 OF 07 110733Z
DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF EEM'S JOINT VENTURE, EXPLAINED THAT A
PORTION OF THE HUNDREDS OF FOREIGN TOURISTS WHO TAKE DAY
TRIPS FROM HCMC TO MY THO IN TIEN GIANG PROVINCE AND CROSS
INTO BEN TRE PROVINCE WOULD WANT TO STAY OVERNIGHT, SINCE
THIS IS A TIRING ONE-DAY TRIP. AS WITH OTHER VICTORIA
HOTELS, THE LOCAL JOINT VENTURE PARTNER WILL HAVE ITS OWN
BLOC OF ROOMS IT WILL SELL AT A DISCOUNTED PRICE.
21. IN 10 DIFFERENT CITIES IN VIETNAM, ONE NOTICES GATED
SPACIOUS COMPOUNDS WITH MODERN BUILDINGS AND SPACIOUS,
GREEN GROUNDS THAT LOOK DISTINCTLY UN-VIETNAMESE. THESE
ARE SOS VILLAGES FOR ABANDONED, ORPHANED AND DESTITUTE
CHILDREN, FUNDED BY THE AUSTRIAN-BASED, INTERNATIONAL NGO
SOS-KINDERDORF INTERNATIONAL (S-K). IN BEN TRE, THE SOS
VILLAGE, JUST OPENED IN 1999, STANDS OUT EVEN MORE THAN
USUAL. ACCORDING TO ITS DIRECTOR, HUYNH CONG BINH, BEN
TRE WAS IDENTIFIED IN 1995 AS A LOCATION FOR AN SOS
VILLAGE BY THE S-K REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE IN HANOI AND THE
GVN BECAUSE OF THE LARGE NUMBER OF ORPHANED, DISABLED, OR
ABANDONED CHILDREN IN THE PROVINCE, PUT AT 7-8 PERCENT.
THE VILLAGE CAN ACCOMMODATE 12 "FAMILIES" OF 9-10 CHILDREN
EACH OF DIFFERENT AGES AND GENDER LIVING IN IMMACULATE
HOUSES NAMED AFTER FLOWERS. AFTER THAY ARE FOURTEEN,
CHILDREN ARE HOUSED SEPARATELY BY GENDER BUT ARE STILL
PART OF THEIR INDIVIDUAL FAMILIES. EACH FAMILY IS HEADED
BY A SINGLE WOMAN WHO MAKES A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT. AT
THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR 2000, THE BEN TRE SOS VILLAGE
HAD SET UP 9 FAMILIES AND HAD A TOTAL OF 70 CHILDREN.
22. BEN TRE PROVINCE PROVIDED THE LARGE, WELL-LOCATED 45
HECTARE PLOT OF LAND FOR THE VILLAGE AND FREE MEDICAL CARE
UNCLASSIFIED
PAGE 04 HO CHI 01121 06 OF 07 110733Z
AND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EDUCATION FOR THE VILLAGE'S
CHILDREN. S-K PROVIDED THE DESIGN FOR THE VILLAGE, FUNDED
ITS CONSTRUCTION, AND WILL PAY FOR HIGH SCHOOL AND
UNIVERSITY FEES AND BOOKS, AND FOR JOB SEARCHES UPON
GRADUATION. IT WILL ALSO FUND CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FOR VILLAGE AND LOCAL CHILDREN. TOTAL
CONSTRUCTION COSTS ARE NEARLY USD 1.5 MILLION. OPERATING
COSTS COME OUT TO JUST OVER USD 20 PER CHILD PER MONTH,
INCLUDING ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS, AND ARE FUNDED BY
INTERNATIONAL DONORS. TYPICALLY, HOUSE MOTHERS HAVE TO
SCRIMP TO MAKE THEIR FOOD BUDGETS STRETCH AND GROW THEIR
OWN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. AT FIRST, LOCAL RESIDENTS
BELIEVED THE VILLAGE'S CHILDREN WERE BEING GIVEN MORE
ADVANTAGES THAN THEIR OWN, BUT THE VILLAGE CONDUCTED
PUBLIC RELATIONS AND RESIDENTS SAW THAT THE LIVING
STANDARD INSIDE THE VILLAGE WAS NOT HIGHER THAN (#####)
CHILDREN'S BACKGROUNDS.
23. THE MOST VULNERABLE CHILDREN IN THE PROVINCE UNDER
NINE-YEARS-OLD WHO WERE NOT DISABLED OR SICK, WHO WERE
EITHER ORPHANS, HAD ONE PARENT BUT WERE ABANDONED, OR WHO
WERE ABUSED, WERE CONSIDERED FOR PLACEMENT IN THE VILLAGE.
A SURVEY SHOWED 190 CHILDREN MET THESE CONDITIONS, AND
THOSE WITH THE LEAST ALTERNATIVE SUPPORT WERE SELECTED.
THE PLACEMENT PROCESS IS ACCORDING TO VIETNAMESE LAW AND
NOTE: (##)OMISSION IN PARA 22. CORRECTION WILL FOLLOW.
REGULATION AND IS SUBJECT TO JUDICIAL REVIEW IF BLOOD
RELATIONS DISPUTE THE DECISION. BINH SAID THE SOS VILLAGE
WELCOMES VISITS AND DONATIONS, WHICH GO TO THE OPERATING
BUDGET, FROM ALL GROUPS, AS THE CHILDREN NEED ATTENTION SO
THEY DO NOT FEEL ABANDONED BY SOCIETY. CONGEN STAFF FOUND
THE CHILDREN EXTREMELY POLITE, LOQUACIOUS, AND EAGER TO
SHOW OFF THEIR NEATLY PUT AWAY TOYS AND ARTWORK AFTER
BEING INVITED TO DO SO.
JOHN
UNCLASSIFIED
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