Efforts for Nurturing Ngoc Linh Ginseng

5:04:42 PM | 7/8/2024

Ngoc Linh ginseng, once a hidden gem of Ngoc Linh Mountain, has gained national recognition, paving the way for a bright future. Clear policies, sincere societal engagement, and visionary investments from figures like Nguyen Duc Luc of Chairman of the Board at Samsam Group are crucial for its sustainable development.

Deputy Minister of Health Do Xuan Tuyen (first from the left) pays a working visit to Samsam Group to strategize on regional development

Ngoc Linh ginseng has been strongly interested by the Government, central and local agencies. It was recognized as a "national treasure" - National Product (according to the Prime Minister’s Decision 787/QD-TTg dated June 5, 2017 and promoted in the Vietnam Ginseng Development Program to 2030 (according to Decision 611/QD-TTg dated June 1, 2023). Currently, the project for development and formation of a pharmaceutical center in Quang Nam province, with Ngoc Linh ginseng as a key crop, was also submitted to the Government for approval. Quang Nam province is located on the eastern slope of the Ngoc Linh Mountain Range. Many years ago, many mechanisms and solutions were introduced to encourage, conserve and develop this rare plant. Nam Tra My district, where the ginseng grows, is given special attention with many practical and specific actions.

Journey to Ngoc Linh ginseng

In response to the State's policy, many businesses have strongly joined forces. In Quang Nam province, businessman Nguyen Duc Luc initiated his plan (in 2008), invested in growing areas (in 2016) and built a VND120 billion factory (in 2018). Currently, he is making the largest investment of over VND200 billion. For him, Ngoc Linh ginseng is more than a destiny to become a passion and aspiration. From an infrastructure construction company in the mountainous region of Quang Nam, he had the opportunity to know and hear a lot about the precious medicinal plant in Tra Linh. When he used it, he clearly felt the enormous effect and value of this small but precious plant to pursue and conquer it.

After meticulous study, in 2014, he decided to grow ginseng. In 2015, Samsam Group was established to hire ginseng forest environmental services according to the province's policy. The start was always hard but the biggest difficulty was convincing people to zone off farming areas and protect ginseng farms. It was very hard to restrict people from traveling in the forest because this meant changing a custom. The company coordinated with local authorities to reach every household to persuade them to zone off growing areas with pledged interests. In the daytime, farmers went to work and they could only meet at night to discuss and persuade. It took a year to gather forest land for planting.

In 2016, being allocated 10 hectares of forest by the Provincial People's Committee, the company invested nearly VND20 billion to buy seedlings and tend them. Since then, the journey to grasp growth habits, reproduction processes and biological and pathologic management started going. Growing ginseng on a household scale is not easy but it is very complicated for businesses because of strong winds, erosive rains, rat attacks and pests which may result in a complete loss. In that first year, more than 10,000 ginseng plants suffered from leaf fungus and damaged roots, causing heavy losses to the company.

Before unexpected difficulties, his determination increased. Luc and his colleagues looked for experts to acquire know-how and invited Japanese specialists to guide and transfer farm management methods. Spending a lot of time working on the farm regardless of day and night, he concluded farming, tending, pest control, harvesting and reproduction processes; and satisfied standards for medicinal properties, pharmacology, active ingredients, minerals, and trace elements. From this success, the company expanded the growing area to 200 ha and planted 500,000 ginseng plants.

Experts from DFCD & WWF conduct a survey of the cultivation areas of Samsam Group, March 2023

Commercializing Ngoc Linh ginseng

As soon as planting and tending processes were standardized, Sam Sam began placing orders for research, extraction, preparation and production projects of Ngoc Linh ginseng and other precious medicinal herbs in Quang Nam. In 2018, the company invested VND120 billion to build a 2.5-ha extraction factory in Tam Thang Industrial Park where dozens of foods and pharmaceuticals derived from Ngoc Linh ginseng were produced, sold on the market and highly appreciated by consumers.

The company also invested in building a biotech center to acquire the in-vitro Ngoc Linh ginseng tissue culture technology from the Department of Science and Technology, Quang Nam province. Currently, Sam Sam has tested 23,000 seedlings certified to meet good quality standards. Successful propagation from tissue culture helps preserve valuable genetic resources and solves the difficulty in creating seed sources for large-scale farming. The company has pioneered Ngoc Linh ginseng research, development and conservation using asexual propagation. The company can produce 1 million seedlings a year and 5 million seedlings a year by 2030.

To diversify products and enhance the value of Ngoc Linh ginseng, Sam Sam is investing VND100 billion to develop a 100-ha medicinal herb area in Nam Giang district and will soon build a large factory. This is a step for the company to realize its aspiration of developing the pharmaceutical sector and form the pharmaceutical industry center in Quang Nam.

Samsam Group Headquarters 

Cooperation for development

Despite his successes, businessman Nguyen Duc Luc is always worried about the future. Why can Korea develop a "billion-dollar" ginseng industry? and many other questions constantly concern him. After much consideration, he thought that Vietnam should have close regulations on standards and content measurement, regulations on Ngoc Linh ginseng content in in each product (e.g. pharmaceuticals, foods and cosmetics) to avoid equating Ngoc Linh ginseng with other ginseng varieties.  There is a need for a price control mechanism. To develop the ginseng industry, it is necessary to trace the origin and apply synchronous quality management, nutritional sources and disease control to ensure no impact on consumers. On these issues, Sam Sam has repeatedly proposed that State agencies soon complete more specific and transparent mechanisms, policies, and legal corridors for this matter.

To boost the development of Ngoc Linh ginseng, many companies need to take part in this business seriously and responsibly. Long-term ginseng investors also need to quickly remove fund difficulties. Currently, banks are very cautious about lending capital to businesses to invest in medicinal growing areas. Establishing the Ngoc Linh ginseng area costs a lot because the price of seedlings is high (VND150,000 a seedling) while the commercial cycle lasts 3-5 years or even longer but businesses have to manage it themselves. At present, Sam Sam Group's ginseng growing area is very valuable but the firm cannot borrow money since forest land and ginseng trees cannot be mortgaged. Furthermore, this highly valuable plant presently lacks an insurance mechanism. Luc said: For Ngoc Linh ginseng to grow well, it must be planted under the forest canopy. To develop this national product, there is a need for a connection and cooperation among all stakeholders and Ngoc Linh ginseng is in dire need of the government's determination, the participation of financial institutions, and the cooperation of businesses and even the consensus and construction of the people.

By Binh Minh, Vietnam Business Forum