THE LUCKY HOGG IN VIETNAM
It was 2013 and we had been driving uphill for half an hour along a difficult muddy path not far from Buon Ma Thuot in the Dak Lak province of Vietnam. Along the way, we passed a car with a small loader. The loader was, in fact, a half round cage in which a huge hogg, male pig was standing. “When I have to come back as an animal in my next life, I want to come back as him”, Lam said. Lam was my Vietnamese consultant, a very helpful and friendly guy, and an absolute genius when it comes to cocoa. I had to think for a moment but then I realised I heard about these kinds of pigs before: “ah, this is a fuck pig?” Lam smiled and nodded: “lucky bastard.” Despite the image of being in a cage, the life of this hogg was actually quite relaxed and came down to one of the most popular pastimes of men and animals. He was allowed to breed as many piggies as he could, meanwhile driven around from farm to farm. Seemingly a life much easier than that of his owner who was struggling to make ends meet as a pig farmer.
NEW HOUSE, NEW CAR WITH JUST 3 HECTARES
Finally, we stopped at a nice, three storey high house with a red tile roof. A small family car was parked in front of it. Lam parked the car and was greeted by Tuan, a smiling man in his late fifties. I got out and saw that the ground floor of the new house was turned into a modern barn with wooden boxes to ferment cocoa beans in one corner, and a big pile of fresh cocoa pods in another.
The wife of Tuan waited for us in the barn and asked us to follow her to the back of the house. There was the source of their income and the reason why they could afford to build this house and the purchase of a new family car: three hectares of farmland; one-and-a-half hectare was reserved for coffee and one-and-a-half for cocoa. Four years ago they had given up half of their small coffee farm in favour of cocoa, and it had paid off for them.
I was shocked: here I was in Vietnam, not even 150 kilometers from the province of Mondulkiri in Cambodia. The soil conditions were the same, the weather was the same, even the same hilly conditions. On top of this, the average farmer in Cambodia has at least twice the amount of land as his Vietnamese counter part. Yet, while a Vietnamese farmer like Tuan can afford a new car and a decent brick house, the average farmer in Mondulkiri is living in a wooden accommodation without electricity and running water, let alone having a new family car in front of his property. There is only one simple explanation for this shocking difference: knowledge. Cambodian farmers rarely know anything else then the basics of rice, banana or cassava. Rice is not possible in the highlands of Mondulkiri, so a farmer limits himself to cassava which hardly brings in any money.
Incidental there was also sometimes someone who tried to make a living with bananas. In the beginning we needed to buy banana plants from others as a shade solution for our new cacao seedlings. There was this old lady who had 10 hectares of beautiful, red volcanic, fertile soil filled with badly maintained banana trees. She always sold the bananas locally. She lived in a wooden shed with a roof of dried banana leaves. Of course she didn't have a car or electricity and running water. The contrast with the 3 hectare cacao and coffee farmer, 150 kilometers away in Vietnam couldn't be any bigger. The old lady didn't have any clue how to increase her income while in the meantime she was - in my opinion - sitting on gold: beautiful, fertile land. Every Vietnamese farmer would envy her. With the right attitude and knowledge she could have become rich.
It all bottles down to theoretical and practical information. We, farmers at Kamkav Farm, can have a say about this as well. Despite the support of Lam, we started out with a limited knowledge about cocoa. As a result, we made very costly mistakes. Mistakes other farmers don’t have to make. If ever we have the ways to communicate with them. The more knowledge we gather, the more we feel the urge to share this knowledge. On the other hand, we also know that other cocoa farmers might have more or better knowledge on subjects that are still puzzling us (like specific kind of diseases).