Many farmers growing soursop fruit in the southern Vietnamese province of Tien Giang are not patient enough to wait until harvest time. Instead, they strip off the trees’ fresh leaves to sell for cash.
Many brokers from other localities are hunting for the leaves of the sour-tasting fruit, a species under the custard apple tree family, from growers in the province’s Tan Phu Dong District, and willing to pay a lot for the products.
None of the buyers or sellers know why the leaves are sought-after, but one of the brokers said he was hired to buy the leaves by someone in the southern province of Binh Duong.
“They said the leaves can be made into tea which can help prevent cancer and other diseases,” the man, who introduced himself only as Tuan, said.
Tuan and other brokers are bidding VND40,000-50,000 (US$1.86-$2.33) for a kilogram of soursop leaves, a price which is obviously attractive to the growers.
Ba Tam, a soursop grower in Tan Thanh Commune, took several sacks of leaves, each weighing 5-6kg, to sell to the brokers on Monday.
Tam earned up to VND300,000 ($13.98) from the leaves.
Her neighbor, Tran Thi Bich, raked in VND700,000 ($32.62) after selling 14kg of leaves. Bich is growing 130 four-year-old soursop trees, all of which are producing fruits. But the price offered for the leaves is so attractive that she did not hesitate to strip the leaves off her trees.
Vo Ngoc Thanh, head of the police unit in Tan Thanh Commune, said he had been briefed about the leaf-hunting brokers.
“Most of the buyers did not stay overnight so we have no information regarding their identity,” he admitted.
The officer added that brokers are also hunting for the leaves in Long My District of Hau Giang Province in the Mekong Delta.
Nguyen Van Hoa, head of the Southern Fruit Research Institute, also said he has no idea what the buyers will do with the soursop leaves, but warned that it is a ‘dangerous’ phenomenon.
“Fruits of the citrus species need an average of 25 leaves to ensure nutrition supply, and soursop in particular needs even more [leaves],” he said.
“So removing the leaves from a soursop tree will reduce its lifespan and fruit productivity.”
It is unclear whether Chinese traders are behind the soursop leave buying spree, as in many other cases where bizarre Vietnamese agricultural products have been mysteriously hunted.
Chinese traders are known for enticing Vietnamese growers to sell their teak, litchi, cashew and sweet potato leaves instead of the fruits, as well as hunting for leeches, apple snails, ball sea cucumbers, and baby crocodiles in the Southeast Asian country.
In 2013 Vietnamese national TV channel VTV aired a special report to decode the scam behind these phenomena.
The feature, broadcast during an evening news program on July 20, showed audiences nationwide how Chinese traders created false demand for several Vietnamese products by offering unreasonably high prices, sending farmers into a rush to collect the goods.
A short time after that, the Chinese entrepreneurs abruptly ended the purchases, leaving the locals with debts.
VTV also discovered another shocking truth, that the products were taken to nowhere but the same localities where they had been sought after.
After creating false demand for the products, the Chinese traders sent people to resell the creatures or leaves to the very Vietnamese farmers whom they had bought the products from in the first place.
The Chinese traders vanished shortly after that.
“Blinded by the high prices and hot sales, farmers did not recognize that they bought their own products, and this is how the vicious circle goes,” the VTV report concluded.