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Harvesting rubber latex in the Northwest

DIEN BIEN – Since the days when the bare hills in the Northwest were covered with rubber, the Thai ethnic people have become accustomed to tapping rubber, earning about 6 million VND per month.

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A corner of rubber forest in Hua Thanh commune, Dien Bien district, has been planted since 2008, when the province started planting this tree to green the barren hills and create jobs for people. As seen from satellite images in 2015, this place still has many bare hills compared to today.

Dien Bien has more than 3,700 hectares of rubber, of which Tuan Giao district has the most with 1,400 hectares. The rubber area of ​​the whole Northwest is about 29,000 ha.

Rubber varieties grown in Dien Bien were selected to suit the mountainous terrain and withstand cold. After nearly 10 years, trees with a diameter of 25 cm will be exploited. The distance to choose the latex collection point is 1.3 m from the soil.

People in Hua Thanh commune, mostly Thai ethnic people, go to shave rubber from 4:30 to about 7 am. Duong Van Chau (left cover) said that the rubber razor is made from white steel to ensure sharpness and hardness.

Ms. Quang Thi Tuyen shaved her latex early in the morning, then still had time to work in the fields, go to the market or send her children to school. Before accepting this job, she and everyone else were trained by Dien Bien Rubber Joint Stock Company for more than a month. Each person was assigned to shave more than 500 latex trees.

Ms. Tuyen said that once every three days, when the latex layer closes, people will shave more, the slope of the shaving line determines the rate of pus discharge. In the early morning, there is a lot of pus, less and less in the afternoon. The older the tree, the more latex it has. However, the collection of latex must also be calculated to avoid depleting the tree.

To prevent dust or leaves from flying into the latex container, people will cover the top with a nylon sheet. Due to the mountainous terrain, difficulty to transport, rubber in Dien Bien mainly collects winter latex, instead of water latex.

Mr. Nguyen Cong Tam, Deputy General Director of Dien Bien Rubber Joint Stock Company, said that latex can be sold for 40 million VND per ton, but dried latex is only about 35 million VND.

The yield of rubber latex in Dien Bien is now higher than that of the Central region and the Central Highlands, with an average of 1.24 tons/ha.

Ms. Quang Thi Tham has been working with rubber trees for 5 years, she is paid about 6 million VND per month. This is a large amount of money for this Thai woman because, in the past, she had almost no income. She had enough to eat when working in the fields when the crop was good, and in the bad year, she waited for the government to support her.

After shaving, 10 days later, Tham collects latex by using an L-shaped iron rod, hooking the latex into a basket, each weighing 20 kg. “The smell of frozen rubber is unpleasant because of fermentation and decomposition, at first I didn’t know it, so I was a bit scared, now I’m used to it,” Tham shared.

People put dried rubber latex into sealed nylon bags and transported them to warehouses for collection. The rubber is then transported to a factory in Son La for processing, and the finished product is exported mainly to China. According to the plan, by the end of 2023, Dien Bien will have a rubber latex processing factory.

When the rubber trees in Dien Bien start at the time of harvest, the dried rubber bands are collected at home, packed in plastic bags and then brought to the warehouse. The amount of latex is calculated into the work of each person to pay the salary at the end of the month.

Thanks to rubber making, in 2021, Lo Thi Tham and her husband, a team of 7 Tau villages, Hua Thanh commune, built a traditional house on stilts at a cost of nearly 700 million VND. She said that rubber work is less difficult than farming, the husband and wife’s annual income from rubber is 150 million dongs. Among them, there are 12 siblings who work as rubber workers.

Three years ago, Dien Bien stopped planting more rubber trees. In 2021, the whole province will collect nearly 3,700 tons of latex, and is expected to collect 3,800 tons in 2022.

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