A project to grow high-yield cashew trees in new economic zones in the Central Highland province of Dak Lak has resulted in the loss of hundreds of billions of dong.
The project, which started in 2002, cost the Government an estimated VND220 billion (US$10.5 million), according to agricultural experts.
Le Thanh Hai, chairman of the People’s Committee of Ia R’ve Commune, said that the weather and soil in the area were unsuitable for growing high-yield cashew trees.
The trees normally blossom and produce fruit between November and December, a time when the area is in the peak of its dry season.
Experts from the Central Highlands Agro-Forestry Scientific and Technical Institute agreed. They said they had warned project managers that conditions were not conducive for the successful cultivation of cashew trees, but their words had fallen on deaf ears.
As a result, many families in the area are struggling to make ends meet.
"We have to endure many difficulties," said Pham Van Hoang, a resident from R’ve Commune.
Hoang and his family have spent years tending to the cashew trees, but their efforts have been in vain.
With the 7ha of land allotted to them, the family could only harvest a maximum of 120 kilogrammes of cashew nuts, even in their most productive year.
Because of the poor harvest, Hoang and his wife resorted to other activities to support their family of four.
To make matters worse, a decision was made in 2008 to cut down the mature cashew trees to grow acacia trees for paper production instead.
According to local people, although the cashew harvest was small, they survived by cultivating short-term crops.
But now, the acacia trees make it impossible to grow cashew trees, denying locals from a major source of income.
In addition, wages are low, at just VND4-5 million $190-240) per hectare per year, and the profit share is unfair, at just 20 per cent.
Only a few households in the new economic zone have been granted their own land, which, given the harsh climate, is not enough to ensure economic stability.
But even those who have their own land struggle, because the plots are far away from their homes.
Hai said that Ia R’ve Commune had asked authorities to allocate each household at least two hectares for production, but the request remained unanswered.