Ginseng farmers of Laos seek international markets

XEKONG, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) – Growers of what is commonly called the ‘Dakcheung herb’ in Dakcheung district, Xekong province, are on the lookout for export markets after local authorities confirmed the quality of the plant was good enough for export.

Elsewhere, the oval-shaped root is known as ginseng and is among the most popular herbal remedies, with claims made for a vast range of medicinal benefits. At present only one entrepreneur in the province is buying this root to use in soap and tea for domestic supply only, Dakcheung district Governor Laysouan Mithsouvanh told Vientiane Times last week.

While this entrepreneur buys up a considerable amount of the crop from local farmers, the rest is sold to other people who like to use it in their own homes in various ways, he said.

In addition, many foreign visitors, especially those from Vietnam, Korea and China, where ginseng is very popular, buy it to take home with them. District authorities are now encouraging farmers to grow ginseng on more than 80 hectares in Dakran and Dakvor villages and plan to expand this area further, said Laysouan.

“Many areas in the district also grow the root but we haven’t actively promoted its cultivation until now,” he added.

A Laotian girl shows off ginseng root freshly pulled from the ground. – VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN

Locals typically add the root to their food when cooking to create a good smell and taste, and boil it up as a drink, which is believed to be good for one’s health.

High ranking government officials also like to buy ginseng and its products to add to their food and boil it with some form of liquid to drink, Laysouan said.

The root crop is commonly found in wooded areas and people who dig it up can sell it or use it in their own kitchens.

Ginseng has been popular for as long as anyone can remember and has been used in food preparation for many generations. Locals believe it keeps them healthy and traders from Vietnam came to buy it, Laysouan said. The quality of the ginseng grown in Dakcheung district is comparable to that grown in Korea, according to the province’s Science and Technology Department.

Department officials analysed it and confirmed that it had health benefits, said department Director Souriphon Meunvisath.

The department is hoping to register the right to grow the crop, but there are many challenges in this process, such as setting up a producers’ group, upgrading it to an association and getting products certified, he said.

The department feels it would be more likely to succeed if it could get cooperation from the relevant private and government bodies, as well as international organisations.

Laysouan said the authorities had only recently begun to encourage local people to grow ginseng and while products are becoming more popular, further support is needed.

If cultivation were successful on a commercial scale, it would help to augment people’s incomes and improve the lives of many families. Larger scale production would also help to spread the fame of the ‘Dakcheung herb’.