The tea couple in Bac Ha - A success story of SHAN TEA project

This is a two-piece-story of Mr. Pham Quang Than and Ms. Le Thi Giang Nhung, a young couple who has built up with support of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Vietnam a tea factory in Bac Ha District (Lao Cai) from close to scratch.
 Piece by piece

“Do you want to build up a tea factory in Ban Lien?” It was the question that changed Than and Nhung’s live. Back then at the end of 2005 Than was unemployed after his former employer had just gone bankrupt and Nhung was having an accountant job in Hanoi. What should a couple in their early twenties do in a similar situation?

Eight predecessors had already tried their luck with this tea factory. It needed a lot of persistence of Mr. Than Dy Ngu, investor in the Ban Lien factory. “He tried everything to convince us. He passed by at our family’s home several times to show us how serious he was”, Than explained and admitted “that his confidence in us had a big impact on our decision”. In 2006 Than agreed on a trial period, Nhung for the time being stayed in Hanoi still in doubts about all that. “It took me five month to convince her, but finally Nhung agreed to build up this factory” Than explained satisfied.

Shan Tea project, funded by SDC and implemented by HELVETAS Vietnam, supports Ban Lien Factory since the beginning of 2013. Through strengthening the linkages between the factory and the farmers as well as targeted improvements on factory level, the project could significantly help boosting the tea quality and production output. By fostering farmer groups as well as providing farmer field schools and technical assistance, mutual trust and responsibility among producer and farmers could be improved. In 2013 HELVETAS remitted a 70% lump-payment for urgently needed processing equipment in Ban Lien. It further achieved that prices for fresh tea leaves are transparently published today and changes need to be announced in advance. Producers and famers both can now rely on secure price information.

Meanwhile Than was starting their risky business. In his former job responsible for the quality control of processed tea, he had to fix the technical equipment now all by himself: “I literally put together piece by piece, made a lot of phone calls to ask for advice of people experienced in tea processing, and so the factory evolved step by step.”

Than often had heavy doubts during the starting time and in the upcoming years too. Business struggled several times, it was hard to establish a stable production and improve the quality of processed tea. It needed a lot of energy and determination of Than and Nhung to continue up to now, but also external factors made them stay in Ban Lien, as Nhung told: “During all those years we knitted strong bounds to the local community. We just wanted to stay here, it was our new home”. And as they started to get support from HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Vietnam in the beginning of 2013 even business matters settled to a more stable ground. “We did a very hard job by our own in the first seven years and can be proud of that, but getting technical and financial support of the Shan Tea project finally gave us the security to run our business stable and successfully in the long run” both point out the turning point for their factory.

Carried by the local community, carry the local community

Today Than and Nhung create a stable income for 11 employees and 300 farmers in Bac Ha district. They produce 30 tons of organic green tea per year, with good prospects to extend their business in 2016. A big reason for their success is their involvement for the community.

“From the very beginning we tried to be more than just the place where people earn their money and then immediately leave”, they revealed their business philosophy beyond pure business and continued that “even if it was hard sometimes for us and money funds were tight, we always tried to support our employees and community somehow or other. They kept up with that until today and do what they can, sometimes paying an employee’s bill for a doctor, sometimes lending small credits to purchase a new motorbike or give a yearly donation to community’s children fund. “All those small signs bring us together and today we can really tell you that we are a core part of this commune in business and friendship matters too”. They both have no doubts. 

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