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  Ethnography

Xe Dang minority end nomadic way of life

Rubber trees are providing a new form of stability for the Xe Dang ethnic minority in the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) province of Kon Tum’s Dak Hring Commune.In the past, residents of the area have been nomadic, a lifestyle indicative of slash and burn farm communities.

Ngo Van Man, the Dak Ha District’s Dak Hring farm director, cited A Theo as a typical example in the commune whose living standard has improved thanks to working for the farm since the early 90s.A Theo now has 32 head of cattle, a house worth VND80 million, a motorbike and other necessities of life.

According to Man, in 1995 the farm began a campaign to encourage Dak Hring households to undertake rubber tree cultivation.

Under the State-funded programme, the farm allocated each household an allotment of rubber trees to maintain at a monthly salary of VND500,000. But at that time, the majority of families did not believe that rubber trees were a better alternative to rice farming.

A Theo activlely contributed to convince local residents to take part in the programme. He put his herd of cattle on the line, worth millions of dong, against any Dak Hring household who couldn’t better their lives with rubber trees over rice. "Xe Dang residents have lived on rice for generations, but they continued to face numerous difficulties," Theo said.

For the first time in their lives, residents of Xe Dang learned and implemented new techniques on nuturing young rubber trees, as well as extracting latex from mature trees.

With the encouragement of A Theo, hundreds of Dak Hring residents registered to receive rubber trees from the farm, about 5ha per family.

A Phai, deputy head of the farm’s team No 8 begins his workday at 5am by waking Dak Hring farm’s labourers. They then extract latex until 10am, and deliver product to the farm’s storage facilities.

In the afternoon, workers spend their time cultivating orchards, coffee and tending livestock, contributing to diversify the farm and stabilise income.Phai said, his team all own motorbikes and have everything they need for a healthy household.

Y Lia, an 18-year-old farm labourer who received 3ha of rubber trees, said she generates VND600,000 in monthly salary, a sum unattainable in her past work helping her parents farming wet rice.

Man said the monthly income of the Xe Dang ethnic minority workers averaged between VND600,000 -700,000. However, he added, there still remained shortcomings in workers’ technical skills.

Average monthly salaries could reportedly reach VND1 million if skills were improved in the future.

According to Man, over half of the farm’s 1500ha of rubber trees were allocated to Dak Hring households. The rest of the trees were to be allocated to residents of Dak Kan Dop village, Po Ko Commune, Dak To District.

Nguyen Duc Cong, deputy director of the farm, and A Ghe, deputy chairman of the commune People’s Committee in Dak Kan Dop village took years to persuade local residents to co-operate with the farm.

But Cong said, the nomadic tendencies of slash and burn cultivation remained deeply rooted with village elders.

The farm director is determined to help local residents remove backward habits that hinder well-being and development.The young generation of the village - Xe Dang’s school-aged children - hope for a better future, Man said.

VNS - (13/05/2004)


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