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tea growers

Tea growers in Phu Tho.

During Vietnamese Independence Day we decided to take a trip to the remote area of Phu Tho, about a three-hour drive from the capital of Hanoi. We would travel into the jungle region of a scenic sleepy area not yet discovered by foreign tourist.

We correctly selected the national holiday as we suspected the local police would be celebrating with their family and friends. Although Vietnam has, by law, religious tolerance, sometimes at remote provincial locations authorities either do not fully understand them or they utilize them as an excuse to harass outside Vietnamese and foreigners.

In the past, visiting Baha’is from outside the area have been detained at Phu Tho police facilities for attempting to attend area Baha’i weddings and funerals. Most activities by foreigners are extremely limited or not allowed at all, in direct violation of the Politburo of the IXth Congress “Resolution number 25-NQ/TW.”

As this is a location inhabited by many poor farmers, Baha’is in the Birmingham, Alabama region wanted us to explore the possibility of purchasing “all the tea produced by the region’s Baha’i farmers.” In this manner it was hoped that these tea growers would receive a fair price for their product and slightly elevate their economic condition in the process.

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Before arriving, I was aware that European tea companies scout countryside areas for bulk loose tea which they purchase by the ton at extremely low prices. They then ship the product back to European Commonwealth nations for packaging and sale at a tenfold price increase. None of the profit margins ever make it back to the actual growers or harvesters.

phu tho

I learned none of the growers can afford poisons or pesticides. As such, I am unsure if this green tea can legally be called “organic.” The Phu Tho tea growers also told me that after their product had been dried, some of the loose leaves were sold in the equivalent of Vietnamese health food stores not to be boiled in water, but to be chewed and consumed dry “for health reasons.” When asked what a fair price would be, they consulted and told me $5 (US) per kilo. A kilo equals 2.2 pounds. They said they would be happy with that price. I informed them I would tell the world about their great tea and most reasonable price.

We met a total of nine families. At each home on stilts, we were expected to drink the tea they harvested and have some food. We met a variety of people, many past the age of 70 and still growing tea. Remember there are no social service programs as we have in the United States. We met ethnic minorities and war veterans. One man drove trucks down the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the U.S. conflict. We met young students and elderly residents who were unfamiliar with foreigners, especially Americans.

At dusk we had to leave as monsoon rains approached and driving conditions in the remote area would be extremely difficult. We departed with the hope that we could, in some small manner, assist these hard-working tea farmers and at the same time offer Westerners a most unusual product.

jim rhodes

Jim Rhodes

Posted: Monday, 3 September 2012