Aus4EqualityGREAT storiesHappiness comes with baskets full of bamboo shoots

Happiness comes with baskets full of bamboo shoots

In early summer, when the weather is warm and the rain often comes suddenly, it is the ideal time for people in Van Ban District, Lao Cai Province to harvest bamboo shoots.

Along the highway to Lao Cai City and the main roads of Van Ban District, many people can be seen carrying bags of fresh bamboo shoots for sale. The bamboo shoots from the area are well-known for their quality are a must-buy for tourists.

Many years ago, bamboo shoots grew naturally in the forest, and people would forage for the shoots to then sell. However, the supply of wild-growing bamboo has been depleted and now people must go deep into the forest to find bamboo.

Thirty-five-year-old Ban Thi May is one of the local women involved in growing and selling bamboo shoots in Van Ban. It is hard work. After a day of digging up bushes to find the shoots, May’s hands are red and sore.

Ms Ban Thi May’s red and sore hands

“Digging bamboo shoots is hard work, but it’s also just a part-time job. During the bamboo shoot season, we go to dig bamboo to sell to earn a little more money. When the season ends, we return to our main job – farming,” May said.

May carries the bamboo shoots to the market or to the highway to sell. Sometimes there are buyers, sometimes not. Once picked, the bamboo shoots must be sold quickly or they lose their freshness and quality.

Despite the physical demands of picking bamboo, it was considered a ‘woman’s job’. Men in the village believed the income earned was not worth the effort, so they do not participate. In 2019, May joined a bamboo shoots development project supported by the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program. Through the project, May and other women were instructed in more modern techniques for planting, caring for and cultivating bamboo shoots so that the quality and quantity of the harvest could improve.

Furthermore, Son Thuy Agro-Forestry Cooperative, a partner of GREAT in this project, have committed to buying the bamboo shoots, so the women do not have to worry about sales.

“Participating in the project, I realised that before I didn’t know how to properly care for the trees so that they could produce more bamboo shoots. Since participating in the training, I feel much more confident in what I am doing,” said May.

Ms Ban Thi May is happy with the bamboo shoots she has collected

The experts who delivered the training taught the women that trees should be cut down every five years. During the harvest, people should not collect all the bamboo shoots, but should leave some to grow for collection in the following season. They should also wait for the shoots to grow and not collect them too early. When a bamboo shoot grows 20-25cm above the soil, it is the perfect size for collection.

Now May, her husband, their two children and her mother-in-law are excited to dig bamboo shoots.

“We collect bamboo shoots between January and March and at the end of the bamboo season we return to the rice fields and our cardamom harvests on the mountains. Thanks to the GREAT-supported project, my family’s income is much higher than before,” May said.

May was also pleased to report that her husband now joins her to collect the bamboo shoots.

According to Pham Ngoc Oanh, deputy head of the Management Board of Hoang Lien-Van Ban Nature Reserve, the total bamboo shoot production area across two communes (Nam Xay and Nam Xe) was almost 65 hectares, servicing 143 farming households. Steps are being taken to expand this production area and the Management Board advised the District People’s Committee to approve a plan for a further ​​373 hectares of forest to be used bamboo shoot production.

“In addition to the economic value, bamboo shoots also contribute to soil protection and help guard against erosion in the rainy season. People can also inter-crop bamboo shoots with medicinal plants to improve land use efficiency,” said Oanh.

The GREAT Program has received consensus and support from the People’s Committee due to its dual goal of improving people’s livelihoods and reducing environmental impacts on natural forest areas.

Son Thuy Agro-Forestry Cooperative has so far purchased 70 tons of peeled bamboo shoots from farmers in seven communes in Van Ban District, at VND 27,000 per kilogram. The Cooperative is expected to purchase 170 tonnes of peeled bamboo shoots from the Van Ban farmers in 2021, bringing in nearly VND 4.8 billion in revenue for the farmers.

To further promote the economic value of bamboo shoots the Vice Chairman of Lao Cai Provincial People’s Committee, Hoang Quoc Khanh, signed a decision stating that bamboo shoots identified as one of 12 key agricultural products in the period 2021-2025. Accordingly, the Lao Cai Provincial Government will expand the bamboo shoots production area to 33,000 hectares by 2025. In addition, the local government will also focus on upgrading the production lines of bamboo shoots in Van Ban district.