Son La develops medicinal herbs in association with community tourism

Developing medicinal herbs is a new direction to restructure high economic crops in the northern mountainous province of Son La. But in order to overcome difficulties in output for medicinal herbs, many experts believe that Son La needs to promote innovative start-ups in this field and develop the value chain of medicinal herbs in association with community tourism.

Amaranth cultivation brings high economic efficiency to Muong La people, Son La Province. (Photo: Ngoc Van)
Amaranth cultivation brings high economic efficiency to Muong La people, Son La Province. (Photo: Ngoc Van)

Son La has topography, climate, rivers, vegetation, natural landscapes suitable for tourists to explore. In particular, medicinal plants and medicinal development models will have the potential to attract tourists.

The whole province currently has about 1,560 hectares of medicinal plants. There are many models with which farmers can earn hundreds of million VND per year. For example, Van Ho District and Moc Chau District have successfully built economic development models forcooperatives on the planting and preliminary processing of medicinal plants. According to the Son La Provincial Department of Science and Technology, this is an effective model which people are encouraged to develop to increase their income.

In recent years, Phu Yen District has also built many linking models for growing medicinal plants, opening up a new direction in crop structure transformation, and promoting the local economy. The whole district currently has more than 100 hectares of medicinal plants, such as amaranth, anabasis, and lemongrass. Currently, the model of cultivating amaranth and anabasis is in the stage of care and stable development, while the model of planting lemongrass is in harvesting stage, the yield of which could reach 20 tonnes of leaves/ha/year.

The district has also supported the production and processing of medicinal plants into commodity products. Notably, the product "Muong La Java lemongrass essential oil" was recognised as a provincial 3-star OCOP product in 2019 and awarded certification as a typical rural industrial product at the provincial level in 2019.

However, according to Deputy Director of the Son La Provincial Department of Health Tran Thanh Binh, the development of medicinal plant growing areas in the province is still spontaneous and small, with planting, tending and post-harvest techniques mainly based on personal experience. Currently, the whole province has only five facilities for extracting lemongrass essential oil and three facilities for cooking plant extract. Products are still mainly in the form of crude oil and concentrated extract.

Agricultural cooperatives in the province are mainly small and medium-sized, accounting for nearly 80% of the total number of agricultural cooperatives, and their governance capacity is still limited. In the coming time, Son La will focus on developing medicinal herbs in association with community tourism, the highlight is building a number of development models in the value chain of some medicinal plants of high economic value.

Head of the tourism-food village of Techfest 2022 Ly Dinh Quan said that Son La has a lot of potential in medicinal herbs, and can compete with the Central Highlands and Hoa Binh, but there is still a lack of development policies and plans to exploit its potentials. Many start-ups are hesitant to deal with this field due to legal and policy constraints. Therefore, Son La needs to have vision, strategy, resources, and knowledge from outside that can impact the locality.

Suggesting some models of agriculture, pharmaceuticals associated with tourism for Son La, Head of the smart agricultural village of Techfest 2022 Nguyen Thi Thu said that it is possible to grow and process eco-oranges and plant medicinal herbs under the tree canopy in association with experience tourism, with a focus on the research and development of products processed from oranges and medicinal herbs. Tourism activities can be organised in combination with experiences of picking oranges andlearning ecological orange farming techniques, providing a closed supply of agricultural and pharmaceutical products for local tourism.

Another model is the application of low-cost processing technology to produce products such as apricot vinegar, apricot wine in combination with sightseeing tours of apricot collection and processing; applying digital solutions in marketing, product communication, technology application in the management and operation of models, etc.

In addition, according to Director of the Department of Market Development and Science and Technology Enterprises under the Ministry of Science and Technology Pham Hong Quat, in the context of fierce competition, the advantage is not selling cheaply, but creating new products using new technology.

Son La needs to promote the application of post-harvest technology to process raw materials into products suitable to market needs, improve product value. It is especially necessary to gather experts and advisers to help solve research and development problems from initial simple ideas. Investment in agriculture and medicinal materials will lead to a good product for tourism in Son La.