Clean living

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Nestled high in the Ngoc Linh Mountain Range, nearly 1,000 meters above sea level, a tiny hamlet boasts one of the Central Highlands' most abundant rice crops. Remarkably, everything here is grown using strictly organic farming practices.


Long Tuc 2 Village chief Ho Van Dang sits on a container of rice leftover from the last harvest.


More than five months after the harvest ended in Nam Tra My District, the people of Long Tuc 2 Village have yet to hold a traditional feast.


"In Long Tuc 2, many households still have too much old rice leftover from the last harvest," said Dinh Xuan Long, a local.


Nextdoor, in Long Tuc 1 village, the festival has already come and gone, but, villagers here continue to enjoy a surplus of rice.


"Except for families that don't have enough people to work their field or are lazy, everyone in hamlet 5 [which includes both of the villages] is swimming in rice," said Dinh Thanh Doi, 57. 


Seated in his home, Doi estimated that his family bagged an additional 120 sacks this season--each weighing some 40 kilograms.


At the moment, his house looks more like a granary than a domicile.

But his grain stores are modest, he insists, compared to a lot of his neighbors.


Dinh Thanh Loi claims that every one of the hamlet's 263 families (1,114 people, in total) own rice paddies.


About 50 percent of the families harvest between 30-50 sacks of rice every crop, while others pull in between 50 and 150 sacks, Loi said.


These mountain farmers, all of whom belong to the ethnic minority Xo Dang, say they feel lucky to have such abundance. Many communities in the region rely on government support between harvests.


Indeed, surrounding villages call this place the "big rice barn." The nickname, Loi says, was not easily won. 


Ho Van Dang, a 75-year-old veteran, said that after the Vietnam War ended, life here was austere. Many went hungry due to poor farming techniques.


With support from authorities and thanks to a tradition of wet rice cultivation, they set to work carving new paddies into the steep hills, he said.


They bought seed in neighboring Quang Ngai province which yielded good results, according to Dang.


The crops improved greatly after they switched to a different seed varietal, provided by the district authorities.


"We all work hard, but such an abundance of rice is also thanks to good seeds," he said.


Strictly organic


The Xo Dang people plant their rice without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Instead, they practice sustainable, organic farming methods.


After harvesting the rice, Nguyen Thanh De says he lets the stalks disintegrate back into the field to fertilize the soil.


Besides, the villagers line their paddies with trees to keep dykes from collapsing, according to De. The falling leaves also break down and enrich the soil.


"We survive on forests and the land," he said. "So we have to learn how to keep lands and forests alive."


Meanwhile, Long says people in this hamlet don't kill snakes or frogs because they rely on them to hunt insects.


"It's not good to use pesticides because while it can kill worms, it also kills worm eaters," he said, adding that they mainly hunt mice to protect their crops.


Nguyen Thanh Truong, a teacher, said that people protect their crops by removing weeds and repairing dykes.


Despite their abundance, the locals here say they have nowhere to sell it. The hamlet is isolated by the high mountains and steep cliffs. There are no roads that can support motor vehicles.


They usually exchange a few sacks with local restaurants, which ferment them into rice wine and other products.


Even then, profits are slim.


"A 40-kilogram sack of rice sells for just VND100,000 (US$3.22)," Ho Thi Lan said.


Lan says that because rice is so abundant, many people throw parties featuring generous spreads of buffalo meat and rice.


In the meantime, the village eagerly awaits the completion of a new road, which is currently under construction.


Many hope that the road will afford them an opportunity to introduce their organic rice to the market.


The Nam Quang Nam road, which will cover 200 kilometers from Tam Ky District to Kon Tum province, is expected to be completed by the end of this year.


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