Education for Nature - Vietnam (ENV)
Source: Vietnam Economic Times Issue: 202
Date: December 2 nd 2004
Author: Thanh Quy

Going to Thailand to Learn How to Farm Soft-shell Turtles

In central Vietnam there are billionaires who have become rich thanks to selling soft-shell turtles for meat and breeding stock to farmers from over 30 provinces and cities throughout northern Vietnam.

The story began with a working visit to Thailand in order to enjoy the Tiger Football Cup in 2000. For people who wanted to make fortune, they took this opportunity to visit some Thai soft-shell turtle farms.

Watching football and learning to do aquaculture

"When recognizing that it was not difficult to farm soft-shell turtles, cost for food and caring for soft-shell turtles was low, and that a good profit could be made, I invited two of my friends, Sac and Thanh who went to Thailand with me, to begin farming soft-shell turtles" said Mr. Dang Ngoc Ly who is now the manager of the Ly Thanh Sac Commercial Stock Company which was established by these three people in 2001. They took out a mortgage in order to borrow 1.5 billion VND from the local bank and invested in farming soft-shell turtles.

Although farming soft-shell turtles is not very difficult, Sac and Ly had to spend half a year living and working with some soft-shell turtle farms in Thailand in order to learn how to build farming ponds, cope with water quality issues for soft-shell turtles, feed soft-shell turtles, treat soft-shell turtle diseases, and breed soft-shell turtles. "We worked 12 hours a day like real farmers. We ground fish, shrimp and snails, checked water in farming ponds, and monitored how to incubate soft-shell turtle egg and about incubation time", said Ly. Ly and Sac often traveled back and forth to Thailand , which made local people think that they were trading forbidden goods. Their passports were full of signatures by the Customs Department of Vietnam and Thailand . In 2001, they finished their learning process, and they came back home with some Thai experts who were hired and paid 1,500 USD to 2,000 USD each per month. These experts helped Sac and Ly with their first group of soft-shell turtles which were imported from Thailand by land. "We thought that if the first breeding stock could not survive, we would transport a second group of soft-shell turtles by air", said Mr. Sac, the present vice-manager of the Ly Thanh Sac Company. Nevertheless, they had good luck because only a small number of their first group of breeding stock soft-shell turtles died, and they achieved their first success.

After four years of development, the Ly Thanh Sac Company has 130 farming ponds with a total area of 50,000 m 2 with more than 80,000 soft-shell turtles. Of these ponds, there are 15 ponds where breeding stock are cared for, and 70 ponds for over 70,000 soft-shell turtles being raised for meat.

Soft-shell turtles are known to be rich in nutrition that increases human body resistance to disease, prevents the sclerosis of arteries, prevents tumours , and cures chronic breakdown and reduced vitality in men. Therefore, people in Ho Chi Minh City and some other big cities love dishes cooked from soft-shell turtles although these dishes are expensive. At restaurants, soft-shell turtles are sold for at least 330,000 VND/ a kilo. Thanks to the increasing demand for soft-shell turtles, the annual turnover of the Ly Thanh Sac Company increases. In 2001, the first soft-shell turtles were farmed and earned the company three billion VND in 2002. In 2003, the company had an income of five billion VND, and in 2004 it was estimated to earn seven billion VND. Each day the company provides nearly 200 kilos of soft-shell turtles to Hanoi 's markets. Each year the company sells about 200,000 soft-shell turtles as breeding stock.

Being both experts and veterinarians

Everybody can feel that Ly and Sac have mastered how to care for soft-shell turtles. They manage dozens of workers, of whom there are two experts that are learning in Thailand . Ly and Sac do not hesitate to do any manual work. While introducing about their farming ponds, Sac took some water from a lake in order to smell the water. He said, "Water in farming ponds should be clean and "greenish" like the colour of green algae. If the water is fishy, 40% to 60% of the water needs to be changed in such a way that it help soft-shell turtles avoid becoming frightened".

Soft-shell turtles as well as families of turtles are commonly timid, love sunbathing and a peaceful environment. Soft-shell turtles have genetic features like humans, so it is necessary to select parent soft-shell turtles from different areas in order to avoid pairing the same genes which makes soft-shell turtles produce or develop slowly. Good breeding stock is important. Therefore, the Ly Thanh Sac Company imports hundreds of male soft-shell turtles from Malaysia in order to crossbreed them with female soft-shell turtles in its ponds. Sac said, "Farming ponds should be built in the ground. Pond walls should be 10 cm wide and one metre high. The corners of each pond should be round so that soft-shell turtles do not gather or climb on one another in order to escape from the pond. Apart from knowing well how to care for soft-shell turtles, Ly and Sac are real "doctors" of soft-shell turtles. They have guidebooks on treating the diseases that soft-shell turtles are prone to get. "We have practical and in-depth experience in farming soft-shell turtles and curing the diseases which soft-shell turtles can get. The experience has not been mentioned clearly in any domestic or foreign documents", proudly said Ly.

Ly and Sac are thought to be enterprising, decisive and patient. They learn from other people and gain experience without tiring, and they have had the best luck. What they have gained today is their deserved achievements after long efforts. At present, the Ly Thanh Sac Company is implementing a 20-billion VND project to build a hotel with a restaurants in Thanh Phu Commune of Ha Tinh Town which is near its soft-shell turtle farm.

Ly said, "We plan to farm at least six special types of animals such as soft-shell turtles, amphibians, eels, and wild pigs in order to partly meet demands of the hotel restaurant. The project will be completed in 2007. Soft-shell turtles and frogs are valuable products of our company. In fact, the company is the only place where the breeding of frogs has been successful, and the company plans to provide frogs as breeding stock to 60 provinces and cities nationwide.

Please note: Translated by Education for Nature - Vietnam . This translation is unofficial in nature. The Vietnamese language version of this story can be obtained by contacting ENV