Creating stable income through Macapuno cultivation in Tra Vinh

62

Source: Bao Moi

Tra Vinh is a coastal province in the Mekong Delta. Among its one million residents, the Khmer ethnic group accounts for over 31%. In recent years, the socio-economic situation of the Khmer community in the province has gradually stabilized and developed, with the material and spiritual lives of the people continuously improving, partly thanks to the economic value of macapuno (coconut sport).

Mr. Thach Phu My next to a macapuno tree in his garden. Photo: Thuy Hanh
Mr. Thach Phu My next to a macapuno tree in his garden. Photo: Thuy Hanh

When talking about Tra Vinh, one cannot ignore the renowned specialty known as macapuno. Therefore, visiting Tra Vinh without enjoying macapuno is like not fully experiencing Tra Vinh. Macapuno cultivation began when a Khmer monk named Thach So migrated from Cambodia to cultivate the first macapuno plants in Cau Ke district. Due to the suitability of the local climate and soil, macapuno plants began bearing fruit and became a unique specialty in Tra Vinh.

Externally, macapuno is not different from other regular coconuts. However, internally, the thick and crispy coconut copra, with very little coconut water, is often described as resembling the texture of jelly. Among more than 10 coconuts in a cluster, there are only 2-3 macapuno coconuts, making them the “odd” ones. Macapuno can be used for culinary purposes, like smoothies, ice cream, jam, etc., which are both delicious and exotic. Additionally, macapuno can also be processed into cosmetics such as moisturizers and soaps. Interestingly, if macapuno trees are grown in other areas, they won’t produce macapuno coconuts anymore.

Therefore, macapuno in Tra Vinh has become unique and valuable, attracting demand and becoming a primary source of income. The high economic efficiency, several times higher than that of regular coconuts, not only brings about stable livelihoods but also enables many Khmer households in the area to live prosperously. Tan Hoa commune, Cau Ke district, is known as the “millionaire macapuno village” with over 100 cooperative members.

Macapuno is mainly grown in hamlets with Khmer populations, such as Chong No 1, Chong No 2, and Chong No 3 in Hoa Tan commune. Due to a lack of understanding of the economic value of macapuno, coconut trees that bear jelly-like copra are often cut down by locals. Mr. Thach Phu My, Chairman of the Hoa Tan macapuno cooperative in Chong No 3 hamlet, explained the reason for cutting down macapuno trees: “Before the 2000s, people mainly planted coconuts for water and used coconut copra to make jam. However, macapuno copra is too sticky, unsuitable for making jam, and too fatty to eat.” Now, the commercial value of macapuno is very high. A single macapuno is valued at 70 regular coconuts, ranging from 120,000 to 200,000 VND per one, depending on the quality and weight. A single macapuno tree yields fruit that can be sold for over ten million VND each year, much higher than that from growing rice on the same area of land. A macapuno farmer shared: “In the past, coconut gardens were left empty, nobody cared about them, but now, with each macapuno valued at 100,000 VND, many people have had to build fences around their gardens to prevent theft.”

From a seemingly economically valueless tree in rural areas, farmers initially chopped down macapuno trees when they bore thick copra with jelly-like water. However, by restructuring the crop, and shifting from less efficient rice cultivation to macapuno cultivation, Tra Vinh Province has transformed the once discarded tree into an OCOP specialty, aiming for the export market. Macapuno cultivation has thrived with 750 hectares, mainly in Cau Ke district. Currently, the province has 21 OCOP products from macapuno meeting 3-star standards or higher. Among them, 9 products are processed from macapuno. The macapuno raw material area of the province can supply over 2.3 million macapuno per year to the market, with 70 hectares grown by local farmers according to VietGap standards. The province applies assisted pollination methods to increase the ratio of macapuno in each cluster.

Tra Vinh University has successfully researched and implemented macapuno varieties using embryo culture techniques, and tissue culture, adapting well to climate change, especially being able to tolerate alkali and salt, with a wax ratio of up to 90%. Thanks to the advantage of applying technological techniques, a sustainable development direction has been opened, enhancing the quality and value of each macapuno variety. Each macapuno variety is sold for about 800,000 VND. In addition, the province has also implemented registration for the geographical indication protection project for macapuno since August 2023, with a project implementation period of 24 months and a total cost of nearly 1.6 billion VND.

Mr. Le Van Dong, Deputy Director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Tra Vinh Province, stated: “The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in collaboration with relevant local departments and agencies, is focusing on implementing solutions, enhancing investment promotion activities, developing connections between enterprises, cooperatives, and macapuno-growing households. We continue to support and guide organizations as well as individuals in accessing policies from the central to local levels in the production, business, processing, certification, and evaluation of the province’s coconut area management, based on digital transformation, to ensure transparency of information in trading transactions. We are leveraging the development of science and technology, especially communication channels, to promote sales, and advertise the unique products of Tra Vinh.”

Mr. Dong also added: “In the 2022-2025 period, the strategy to upgrade the value chain of macapuno aims to achieve a yield of 16 tons per hectare. Specifically, at least 8,000 hectares of coconut will cooperate with at least 10 businesses to establish a raw material area for high-value coconut processing and consumption in a high-value coconut production chain. According to the plan, the province will continue to expand the area of macapuno cultivation by about 5,000 hectares and encourage coconut growers to use tissue culture to give a “new look” to macapuno, enabling products to reach further both domestic and international markets.”

By Ngan Truong