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Chinese traders hunt for decades-old sugar palm trees in southern Vietnam

You will never be able to guess what Chinese traders will add to the list of bizarre products in their highly dubious buying sprees in Vietnam in recent years.

You will never be able to guess what Chinese traders will add to the list of bizarre products in their highly dubious buying sprees in Vietnam in recent years.
You will never be able to guess what Chinese traders will add to the list of bizarre products in their highly dubious buying sprees in Vietnam in recent years.

After hunting for apple snails, dried cashew leaves, live leeches, poisonous mushrooms, people from China are purchasing decades-old sugar palm trees in the southern Vietnamese province of An Giang.

Sugar palm, scientifically known as borassus flabellifer, is popular in the province that borders Cambodia.

The sugar palm fruits, leaves, and trunks can be used in various ways so the plant is tremendously valuable and considered a staple in An Giang’s economic development.

The Chinese traders do not buy these parts separately but the whole trees, including their roots, instead.

Local people are hired to persuade villagers in Tinh Bien and Tri Ton Districts, where many residents come from the Khmer ethnic minority, to sell the sugar palm trees to the Chinese.

The most sought-after trees are those at least ten years old, and are uprooted with cranes and taken away on trucks thanks to their huge size.

Minh, a broker hailing from the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Nai, said he had managed to buy 16 sugar palm trees over the last ten days.

While locals only demand VND500,000 (US$22.32) per tree, the brokers have to pay VND2 million ($89), after the transport and crane-hiring costs are counted.

The trucks will head for China following being fully loaded with the sugar palm trees, some of which are as old as 20 years.

Authorities in Tinh Bien and Tri Ton have detained some illegal buyers of the sugar palm trees, but still failed to completely halt the purchasing phenomenon.

“We handled a case in which dozens of sugar palm trees were illegally bought a few months back,” Nguyen Hung Cuong, head of the secretariat of the Tinh Bien administration, told VnExpress newspaper on Tuesday.


Sugar palm fruits.

Cuong added that the district has also called on the provincial agriculture department and forest rangers to ban the trading of sugar palm trees to protect the special plants.

Do Minh Tri, deputy chairman of Tri Ton District, said local authorities also caught a truck carrying over 20 sugar palm trees more than 15 years old last month.

“The sugar palm must be protected as it makes An Giang known across the country,” he told VnExpress.

“We are also encouraging local residents not to sell the trees for easy money.”

There are about 60,000 sugar palm trees in Tinh Bien and Tri Ton, where residents have managed to escape poverty by making and selling delicacies made from the plants.

The sugar palm fruits, like coconuts, can be made into delicious drinks and sweet soups, whereas the sap is used to make palm sugar, a nutrient-rich, crystalline sweetener, completely natural and unrefined.

Chinese traders have repeatedly hunted for weird products in Vietnam for unknown reasons.

The Chinese at first offer high prices for a certain product, creating a false demand that sends local farmers to jostle to collect the goods.

When supply is abundant, the foreign traders will immediately disappear, leaving local farmers scratching their heads over what to do with the weird products they have spent a lot of money on collecting.

In 2013 national broadcaster VTV aired a special report to denounce the trick of Chinese traders, but many Vietnamese farmers have still fallen victim to them.