In the northern province of Bac Giang, farmers spend their mornings harvesting and then sorting huge piles of ripe lychee, a tropical fruit typically harvest from mid-May until the end of July. Bac Giang, about 54 kilometers north of Vietnamese capital Hanoi, has over 28,000 hectares of lychee orchards, and harvests an average of 160,000 tonnes a year.
The lychees, which come in big bundles, have not just offered farmers, distributors and traders some means of living, but have also put Bac Giang in the tourism and export map. The scene of farmers on their motorbikes carrying baskets overflowing with the sweet fruit has become a yearly affair — a sight to behold especially as the motorbikes, in a single straight line, pass through the pontoon bridge.
But unlike the past years when there were dozens of traders and buyers eagerly waiting at the end of the bridge to buy their harvests, business is down this year.
Vietnam usually exports around 100,000 tonnes of fresh lychees worth more than $30 million to lychee-obsessed China, Japan, Australia, the EU and the US. Chinese buyers, based just a few hours drive from the China-Vietnam border, come directly to Bac Giang during the harvest season.
But because foreign buyers and foreign entrants need to be quarantined for at least 14 days as safety measures against COVID-19, the lychees are left unsold.
More harvest, lower prices
Because of the significant drop in the number of Chinese traders coming to Bac Giang, the prices of lychee have gone lower than usual. Prices on the first day of the harvest this year were at VND20,000 - 25,000 per kilogram, about VND 10,000 cheaper than last year.
Many farmers have reported big losses, earning only half their pre-COVID sales.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the province expects to harvest 180,000 tonnes this year, up 8% from 2020. At least 45,000 tonnes of which have already entered the harvest season, while the main harvest is scheduled to begin in early June.
The local government has pledged to take measures to support lychee farmers by promoting domestic consumption and safe cross-border trading. Luc Ngan vice chairman Nguyen The Thi said around 67,000 tonnes of lychee would be sold domestically, 23,000 tonnes would be used for dry lychee processing, and only 32,000 tonnes would be exported.
Bac Giang’s Department of Trade and Industry is also now in talks with Chinese traders to facilitate export. Trucks with lychee fruits would be asked to gather one kilometer from the Chinese border for disinfection, before the Chinese side took the trucks and drove them to a specific spot to unload the fruits. The goods will bear QR codes to provide information about the production area, farmers, preservation and shipping progress.
The province has also set up a lychee export support team at the Lao Cai and Lang Son border to resolve any hiccups in transfer of goods.
Besides China, the province of Bac Giang was also able to seal a deal with Japan. On Wednesday, 20 tonnes of lychees from the first batch of the 2021 harvest were shipped to the East Asian country. The fruits were grown in Tan Yen District and were shipped by the Global Export and Import Foodstuff JSC and Chanh Thu Export and Import Fruit Company. The two companies said that they would export more Bac Giang lychees to Japan by air and sea this year.
Lychee on Lazada?
Like in Bac Giang, lychee farmers in the province of Hai Duong are struggling to export their harvests due to strict restrictions imposed not just by Vietnam, but the countries where they fruits are intended to be shipped.
Vietnam’s Trade and Promotion Agency said it’s encouraging farmers to use e-commerce platforms like Sendo, Lazada and Alibaba to sell the fruits — probably the best option right now, but not without obstacles. Many of the farmers lack know-how in selling online, and are not familiar with marketing their products and screening customers.
The agency said it’s continuously conducting training with farmers and traders, with the help of the province’s relevant authorities, to help them set up their online stores. Some have already successfully begun selling their lychee products in Sendo since May 24. Six tonnes of the fruit were sold on the first day and so far, after three days, 14 tonnes were purchased, exceeding the target of 12 tonnes.
About two tonnes of lychee are also sold on Lazada every day, while Viettel Post is managing at least 2,000 orders for the fruit. Lychees are sold from VND18,000 to 30,000 per kilo on the e-commerce sites.
Hai Duong is also working on exporting the fruits to Japan, Singapore and Australia.