Hanoi (VNA) – Apart from long-established tea brands like Tan Cuong and La Bang, the northern mountainous province of Thai Nguyen boasts a once-famous tea – Song Cau.
In recent years, thanks to the efforts of authorities, scientists and farmers, Song Cau tea has regained a foothold in the market.
Song Cau tea doomed to oblivion
Located near National Highway 1B from Thai Nguyen to the northern border province of Lang Son, Song Cau town in Dong Hy district was once known as a tea growing area, largely thanks to the Song Cau Tea Farm, now Song Cau Tea One Member Ltd., Co.
Vu Thi Thuong Huyen, Vice Chairwoman of the People’s Committee of Song Cau town, said up to 450 out of 1,047 ha of land in the locality has been zoned for tea cultivation, adding that local soil is suitable for tea growing.
The Song Cau Tea Farm was established in the 1960s when the Song Cau Tea Factory was built. At that time, local farmers sold tea to the farm for processing and export and the factory shipped tea across the world.
Up to 70 percent of local households have experience in tea growing and processing.
In early 2000, Song Cau Tea One Member Ltd., Co. stopped purchasing tea from farmers due to business difficulties. Therefore, local farmers had to seek markets for their products themselves.
Problems in tea production prompted local farmers to shift to other plants. However, failures in maize and lychee cultivation made them resume tea growing.
A problem appeared when old and stunted tea fields that have been cultivated with old farming methods could not reach high prices. Each kilo of tea was sold for only 50,000 VND.
Over the years, local farmers have poured more investments in tea growing, leading to an imbalance between supply and demand. As a result, they were under price pressure from private traders, and could not build a brand for local tea products.
In 2016, the Thinh An Tea Cooperative was established with its members mainly coming from Song Cau town.
Despite good quantity and quality, Thinh An tea has found it hard to reach domestic and foreign consumers as the brand has yet to gain a firm foothold in any market.
It even has to compete with other brands like Tan Cuong, Trai Cai and La Bang, which have long-established names.
In 2017, a project building safe tea production models to raise added value and promote sustainable development for 2017-2019 was launched by the provincial agricultural encouragement centre, under which 50 ha of tea in Song Cau town followed VietGap standards, according to Huyen.
Huyen said 250 households in the hamlets of Tan Tien, Lien Co and Nao Mao, and hamlets 7 and 9 received training on safe tea production, and support worth half of the values of fertilisers and pesticides, as well as assistance in seeking consumption markets.
The project aimed to build tea production and processing connectivity and apply technology in tea cultivation.
With total investment of 12 billion VND (516,000 USD), the project was launched in Thai Nguyen, Yen Bai, Ha Tinh, Phu Tho, Tuyen Quang and Lao Cai provinces.
The connectivity between households as well as between households and businesses, cooperatives and production groups in tea processing and consumption has improved, and applying technologies has boosted productivity and quality, helping raise tea growers’ income by more than 20 percent compared with other models.
Many households have planted new tea varieties with an output of 300 tonnes per crop and prices ranging from 130,000 VND-500,000 VND per kg.
Huyen said hamlets 5, 9, Tan Tien and Lien Co have been recognised as traditional tea-growing areas.
The project has helped local farmers change their tea production mindset and methods, towards clean cultivation and processing.
Farmers have observed clean tea cultivation and processing steps to ensure tea quality.
Nguyen Duc Trong, head of hamlet 9 where there are some 70 ha of tea, said local farmers have followed tea cultivation and processing steps, adding that his family can dry up to 4 tonnes of tea during peak times.
The farmer said his and some other households have begun to produce matcha, helping raise their income as well as the prestige of Song Cau tea.
Apart from Thinh An cooperative, farmers in hamlet 9 have sought ways to sell their products, delivering them to cities and provinces nationwide, including Ha Noi, Ha Nam, Quang Ninh, Quang Ngai and Binh Duong.
Promoting Song Cau tea
Song Cau farmers have received support from scientists and experts in reviving the once-famous tea land.
The Green Innovation Tour is one of the community-based programmes aiming to connect farmers with experts and consumers as well as State agencies.
In early June, a seminar on developing Song Cau tea brand was held by the Foreign Trade University (FTU)’s Innovation and Incubation Space, the People’s Committee of Song Cau town, IPCom Vietnam and the FTU’s Intellectual Property Club.
The seminar sought ways to give a facelift to Song Cau and optimise its strength in tea plants, towards safe production and sustainable development.
Dr. Tran Le Hong from the Intellectual Property Department under the Ministry of Science and Technology said Thinh An tea is tasty but not typical, suggesting local farmers develop a brand for their tea.
He also proposed opening tea shops with Thinh Anh and Song Cau tea in Hanoi and other major cities, and using e-commerce to promote their brand.
Dang Thanh Van, General Director of Thanhs Company, said although Thinh An tea has been sold on e-commerce platforms, there are no articles relating to this kind of tea.
Thinh An tea’s packages should contain information regarding the brand, production date, instructions for use and even interesting stories about it, he said.
Nguyen Thu Hanh, Chairwoman of the Union of Science for Sustainable Tourism Development, suggested re-planning tea areas and developing them in tandem with tourism.
Vu Thi Thuong Huyen, Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Song Cau town, expressed her hope to turn the locality into a land of tea and an eco-tourism destination, and that tea plants would create cultural identities for Thai Nguyen.-VNA