By Jason Woods, World Ark senior editor
Photos by Omar Havana
Innovative farmers in Vietnam are teaming up with Heifer to raise frogs and cultivate exotic fruits that look like balls of fire. The farmers are following Heifer's original strategy by raising cows to improve health and income. This marriage of old and new approaches in spawning collaboration and success across the Mekong Delta.
NGUYEN THI TANG
Before working with Heifer, Nguyen Thi Tang and her family pocketed only 2 million Vietnamese dong a month, the equivalent of $100. Most of that income came from her husband’s teaching salary and rice farming.
Now, Tang’s family earns about $500 a month, an income spike that started with a Heifer cow. Tang is breeding cows now, selling the bulls and keeping the heifers. She’s also the treasurer of a Heifer-sponsored self-help group. Members make monthly contributions to a group savings fund. If the group approves it, members can take out low-interest loans from the fund to invest in education, livestock or other ventures.
After hearing success stories from her peers, Tang took out a loan to grow dragon fruit, which comes from a cactus and looks like a fi reball on the outside. Fruits that are red on the inside instead of white garner the most money, and that’s the kind Tang grows.
Manure from Tang’s cows keeps the cactus fruits bountiful, and the family can now count on about $125 a month in income. Tang is also quick to note the intangible benefi ts of working with Heifer. “I can communicate with others,” she said. “I have the opportunity to visit other cities. I’m proud to stand in front of a crowd and talk, not like I was before.”
HUYNH VAN CHIEN
Huynh Van Chien leaped into the frog business little more than a year ago. “Because this was my first time raising frogs, I was scared about the risks in feeding them,” he said. “I wanted to start small-scale.”
As it turns out, Chien says raising frogs isn’t that hard. He has 400 of them now. “I can get small fish and shrimp from the lake to feed the frogs,” he said. “They are natural and easy to find.”
The frogs are also easy to sell. Chien earns $2 per kilogram from the frogs, and he can sell 40-50 kilograms per month. Two years ago, Chien received a cow from Heifer Vietnam, and shortly after, he borrowed $50 from his self-help group’s savings fund to invest in frogs.
“At first, I learned (about the frogs) by myself, then I learned from other members of the group.” Chien feeds his frogs three times a day, and he administers medicine when a frog isn’t eating like it should.
The next steps will be expanding the scale of his frog business and finding ways to breed them so he doesn’t have to buy tadpoles. Chien sells his frogs, but he eats some of them, too. “It’s my favorite because it’s tasty, delicious,” Chien said. He prefers them fried with onion, garlic and spices.
TRAN THI THAM
Tran Thi Tham’s cows gave her an economic boost, and an emotional one, too. Her sons are old enough that they’ve moved out of the house and far away. In their absence, Tham formed strong bonds with her animals.
“I talk to my cows because I miss my sons a lot,” she said. The extraordinary care Tham gives is refl ected in the cows’ demeanor. Right now, Tham has a full-grown cow, which was donated by Heifer, and its calf. When she takes the cows to pasture, the calf skips with glee. When she checks on the cows, which is usually an hourly occurrence, the cows nuzzle up around her shoulders.
Although she expects to sell some calves in the future, Tham plans on keeping the two cows she has now, as well as expanding the herd. “I’d like to keep my cows forever,” she said.
LE THI LONG
A menagerie of livestock and vegetables thrive under her care, so it’s surprising that Le Thi Long is new to farming. Long started out by borrowing a cow from Heifer so she could learn how to care for it. After learning how to breed cows, she now owns three.
She also bought pigs from a neighbor on credit. After she paid her neighbor back, she tapped her self-help group’s savings fund to buy farm equipment, poultry, earthworms, fish and vegetables. One of her most fruitful vegetables is cú nang, or water chestnut, an aquatic tuber with stalks that grow up to 5 feet.
“The profit is five times that of rice, and it is highly productive,” Long said. Water chestnuts are also easy to grow, since she uses her cows’ manure as fertilizer.
In the last year, Long doubled her monthly income— from $100 a month to $200—through hard work and newfound knowledge about money management.
“I experienced poverty before, so when I had money, I planned all these things because I don’t want to be poor again.” Next, Long wants to rebuild her house and fund her children’s educations. “They’re in university now, and I want to support them until they finish,” she said.