Facing destitution, Phan Thanh Tien wandered around from Vinh Long and Kien Giang provinces in Mekong Delta for five years, looking for jobs as a hired worker on sweet-potato farms.
AN GIANG —
Phan Thanh Tien shows off some of his prized sweet potatoes. Tien has found growing potatoes so lucrative that he intends to enlarge the area of his farm to 100 hectares next year. — VNS Photo Le Hoang Vu
After four years working on the farm, Tien moved to Vinh Loi Village in An Giang Province in 2004, and decided to set up his own farm cultivating Japanese sweet potatoes.
The soil was in an oft-flooded area, with serious alum penetration.
He is now the wealthiest man in Tri Ton District, with an annual income of up to billions of dong from harvesting sweet potato.
During the time he worked on potato farms in Vinh Long and Kien Giang provinces, he learned the latest methods for cultivating sweet potato from his employers.
Tien used all of savings of VND50 million (US$2,300), 0.2 taels of gold and wedding rings to establish his new farm.
He rented five hectares of land with VND25 million (US$1,120) of his money and bought potatoes in Hon Dat District to plant on his land.
Soon after that, the potato farm yielded VND200 million in earnings, which allowed him to expand his farmland to 15 hectares. His earnings increased to VND350 million ($16,000).
With the money, he was able to expand his farmland to 52 hectares earlier this year.
"When I came here to prepare for my sweet-potato project, many people thought I was stupid because if the floods came, all of my plants would be submerged under water, or mice would destroy my farm," Tien said.
However, he said he was not worried because the local government had strengthened the dyke surrounding his farm.
In order to save on labour costs, Tien used ploughing machines to improve the land, a pumping system, and harvesting machines.
He said most farmers chose to plant sweet potatoes on high and dry land,but he did the opposite.
"It's good to plant sweet potato now. When the potatoes grow as large as a finger, the Chinese traders leave a deposit," he said, adding that he had recently received VND1 billion ($47,600) from a Chinese trader.
Tien estimated that he earned from VND7 to VND9 billion ($333,000 – $428,000) from each harvest, with profits of VND4 billion ($190,000) in profit.
Next year he plans to expand his farm to 100 hectares.
Nguyen Van Van, head of Vinh Phuoc Commune's People's Committee, said although raw material prices had skyrocketed, Tien's use of technology enabled him to cut costs and get high yields.
"Tien is the first person who planted sweet potatoes and got wealthy from these areas in Vinh Phuoc Commune that are often flooded," Van said. —VNS