Rattan gatherers face uncertain life

Showing his hands scratched and calloused by rattan thorns, Cao Tho likens his life to a squirrel’s. 

“Like a squirrel, we run from one forest to another in search of rattan trees every day but only find a few water rattan palms,” the Khanh Hoa Province man says. 

Cao Tho and his whife earn VND30,000 a day, which is not much, but enough to buy rice for their family.

“The higher-value bitter rattan cannot be found any more.”
 
For 90 percent of the population of Khanh Phu Commune, selling rattan trees is a major source of livelihood besides growing yam and corn.    

Come rain or shine, the Raglai ethnic minority in Khanh Phu would pitch their huts for days in the forest and go in search of rattan.

Many families even spend lunar New Year’s Day in the forest. 

But finding rattan is hard, and collecting it even harder.

The thorns scratch and hurt the strong and cause fever in the weak. A person can collect only around two bundles a day.

And rattan does not fetch much money – they sell a bundle for VND7,000 or 8,000 to traders who then resell to craftspeople for three or four times the amount. 

Cao Tho and his wife earn VND30,000 a day. “It is not much, but enough to buy rice for the family,” Tho says. 

For him, the greatest fear is not the low market price but that the forests would run out of rattan.

In recent years overexploitation has pushed the palm to the brink of extinction and authorities have yet to develop a plan to grow rattan and make it a stable source of income for people.  

By Bao Long – Translated by Thuy Linh

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