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Chinese ginseng floods the domestic market

Ngoc Linh ginseng is seen as a ‘national treasure’. It is listed among the best ginseng in the world. With the selling price of VND300 million per kilogram, the medicinal herb helps farmers in the mountainous areas of Quang Nam and Kon Tum earn high revenue every year.

The offers of Ngoc Linh ginseng bulbs on social networks and e-commerce platforms at surprisingly low prices have confused people. 

If searching on Google with the key words ‘cu sam Ngoc Linh tuoi’ (fresh Ngoc Linh ginseng bulbs), one sees thousands of results.

The ads about Ngoc Linh ginseng say that most of the shops’ headquarters are in Gia Lai, Lai Chau, HCMC and Thanh Hoa, and there are very few suppliers from Quang Nam and Kon Tum, the ‘metropolises’ for Ngoc Linh ginseng.

Surprisingly, the ginseng bulbs offered on the websites are cheap, just VND780,000 per kilogram (10-29 ginseng bulbs). Larger bulbs are VND1.2 million per kilogram.

Meanwhile, at Ngoc Linh Mountain in Nam Tra My district in Quang Nam province, fresh Ngoc Linh ginseng is sold for VND60-160 million per kilogram.

Ngoc Linh ginseng leaves are priced at VND10-12 million per kilogram and flowers VND15-17 million. Ginseng seeds are selling at VND80-100 million per 1,000 seeds.

Experts say they don’t think the ginseng bulbs offered at low prices on social networks are real Ngoc Linh ginseng. They have found that in many cases, the ginseng offered in the social network market is Chinese Panax pseudoginseng, which looks like Ngoc Linh ginseng.

Competent agencies have confirmed that they have often discovered ginseng with unclear origin brought from China to Vietnam and sold as Ngoc Linh and Lai Chau ginseng.  When testing the China sourced products, state agencies discovered the plant protection chemical residues were much higher than the permitted level. There are also chemicals prohibited in Vietnam.

Colonel Do Dinh Cuong from Lai Chau Provincial Border Guard said ginseng smugglers connect with Chinese traders to negotiate selling prices. After the negotiations, Chinese ginseng is put into barrels and floated down the river in the border area. Vietnamese smugglers receive the ginseng products downstream.

If the barrels are discovered by the police, no one turns up to receive the products and the barrels are listed as ownerless.

While some people sell counterfeit Ngoc Linh ginseng to earn big money, others create  bogus Ngoc Linh ginseng growing projects to trick people out of money.

On November 10, Cau Giay district Police said the agency decided to file charges against Pham My Hanh, president of My Hanh Group JSC, and arrested her for ‘swindling to appropriate assets’.

Hanh told investors that her business was running a very profitable project on growing Ngoc Linh ginseng in several provinces. In 2022, Hanh and her co-workers mobilized money from investors, promising to pay both principal and interest one year later with the interest rate of 2.5 percent on average.

According to Vietnam National Television (VTV), thousands of people contributed capital to Hanh’s Ngoc Linh ginseng project. The capital she mobilized over the last two years reached VND1.264 trillion.

Hanh used a part of the money to pay interest to capital contributors, while the remaining was injected into real estate firms and spent for her private purposes.

In mid-April 2023, Kon Tum Police filed charges against Pham Ngoc Dien, chair of the Kon Tum Green Agriculture and Industry Cooperative, and arrested him for ‘swindling to appropriate assets’.

Prior to that, Dien had repeatedly advertised that he had been allocated 100 hectares of land to grow Ngoc Linh ginseng, and that he wanted partners to implement the project. He told investors to transmit money into his bank account and then appropriated the money.

Better control

With great potential and high value, Ngoc Linh ginseng in many localities of Quang Nam and Kon Tum is considered a major crop that helps locals reduce poverty.

However, the director of a ginseng production company, commented that the ginseng market is chaotic because of the appearance of fake Ngoc Linh ginseng. He said it is necessary to grant growing area codes and tighten control over imports; if not, fake ginseng will harm the Vietnamese ginseng brand.

Manh Ha