Vietnam’s Ngoc Linh and Lai Chau are among the best ginseng kinds in the world and have high value. They are grown mostly in Quang Nam, Kon Tum and Lai Chau.

Original first-class Ngoc Linh ginseng is priced at VND300 million per kilogram, while Lai Chau ginseng is VND120 million. Since the ginseng are very precious and expensive, they are often counterfeited.

Therefore, many people were surprised when hearing that the ginseng was selling at just several millions of dong per kilogram, and ginseng seedlings were also dirt cheap.

However, people have been warned against buying this kind of ginseng because it is not the real thing. 

A seminar discussing solutions to prevent and handle smuggled ginseng, and protect Vietnamese ginseng growers was held on September 8. The organizing board cited reports saying that agencies have discovered smuggled ginseng from China with unclear origin in the Vietnamese market. The imports are mixed with other ginseng varieties and sold under the brands of Ngoc Linh and Lai Chau.

The agencies also said that plant protection chemical residues at high levels have been found on Chinese ginseng, which is harmful to humans. The chemicals include elements prohibited in Vietnam.

Nguy Dinh Phuc, head of the Market Surveillance Division No 2 in Kon Tum, said Chinese ginsengs, from seeds, seedlings and ginseng bulbs, are available everywhere on social networks. The sellers of fake ginseng even use collaged photos of provinces’ leaders to advertise ginseng products and swindle buyers. 

“The images of Lai Chau policemen have been exploited to advertise and sell ginseng seedlings,” Phuc said.

The advertisements about ginseng on social networks all say that sellers can provide ginseng in large quantities immediately. 

Phuc said one real Ngoc Linh ginseng seedling is priced at VND300,000, but fake products sell fir VND100,000, while seedlings from China are priced at VND20,000-25,000 each.

Nguyen Duc Le from the Market Surveillance Agency reported that in the first eight months of 2023, more than 4,400 cases related to low-quality ginseng were handled. The agency not only found ginseng bulbs in the market, but also products such as sweets and makeup advertised as made from Ngoc Linh and Lai Chau ginsengs.

In general, it is very difficult to inspect the quality of ginseng products available in the market. Chinese ginseng may have the same genetic sources like Vietnam’s, but the cultivation process is different. Chinese growers usually use chemicals and stimulants to make the plants grow rapidly, which may be harmful to consumers.

Colonel Do Dinh Cuong, Head of the Drug and Crime Prevention Department of Lai Chau Provincial Border Guard, said ginseng smugglers connect with Chinese traders to bring Chinese ginseng to Vietnam. They put ginseng into barrels and float the barrels down the river in border areas. Vietnamese merchants receive this at certain sections of the rivers.

“If the fake ginseng barrels are discovered by the police, they become ownerless. No one will claim to be the owner of the goods,” he said.

What to do?

Controlling ginseng cultivation with growing area codes and traceability is the answer, according to Nguyen Trong Lich, deputy director of the Lai Chau Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

It is very difficult to supervise and prevent fake goods from crossing border gates, but he stressed that this is a must.

The best solution to differentiate real and counterfeit ginseng is analyzing the substances contained in ginseng. However, in order to quickly find the truth, there must be other solutions, such as building big data system and using scanners.

Lich also mentioned the need to grant growing area codes which will help the ginseng traceability.

Phan Ke Long, deputy general director of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, said since 1990-1995, China has been collecting many tons of Vietnam’s ginseng. There have been many scientific research works about Ngoc Linh ginseng over the last 50 years.

It takes about one week to do gene sequencing, but this cannot help determine what Chinese and Vietnamese ginseng are. Therefore, it would be better to build data about growing areas to find out where ginseng is being grown.

Tam An