Even though it is now the rainy season in Khanh Vinh Forest in Khanh Hoa Province, people are more than willing to wander up hill and dale to pick up Malva nuts, or “uoi nuts” as they are called by locals.
The valuable Malva nut tree, or Sterculia lychnophora, is known as the “millionaire tree”.
“If you can pick up all the nuts of a tree, you can get about VND20 million, a huge sum of money for people who live in the mountains,” said Ha R, who said he had gathered nuts for one week.
Ha R said foreign merchants flocked there every year, when the dry season ends and the rainy seasons begins, to collect uoi nuts.
They said the nuts can be used to cure many diseases, so they have become as expensive as gold.
“It is more profitable to pick up uoi nuts than grow rice,” Ha R said, adding that last week he earned several million dong just after three days of working in the forest.
Though foreign merchants began collecting uoi nuts several years ago, the nuts were never expensive.
They were sold for several thousand dong per kilo. However, the uoi nut price has soared unexpectedly. Residents in Lam Dong Province and neighboring localities have also been looking for uoi nuts.
“One person can pick up nearly 10 kilos of uoi nuts every day. It is easy to make money,” Ha R said. “Locals call uoi nuts the green gold of the forest.”
Pointing to a mark on a tree, Bo Bo D, an uoi nut collector who led reporters to the uoi forest, said people mark the trees to indicate “ownership” and to show others they need to look for other trees.
“When uoi nuts suddenly became expensive, people started scrambling to look for trees,” he explained.
“There are many ways to collect uoi nuts,” a local resident told reporters. “An uoi tree can provide 30 kilos of nuts. The nuts have the highest quality when they get ripe and fall into the ground.”
People usually fire an arrow at the uoi nut trees to discover if the nuts are ripe enough. After that, they chop down the trees and collect the nuts for drying and sale.
Ha Lien, Secretary of the Son Thai Commune's Party Committee, said local people were not prohibited from picking up uoi nuts, but they had been told to pick up fallen ripe nuts only. However, the instruction has been ignored by locals, who chop down trees to pick up the nuts more easily.
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