Once just a type of tree to cover the mountains, no one took care of it, but today, the star anise tree has helped local people in the northern mountains get rich.

Planting star anise trees to cover empty mountains

Star anise trees are widely planted in many localities of Cao Bang province a long time ago. But it was not until the early 1990s that star anise trees were introduced to the districts: old Tra Linh (now merged as Trung Khanh district), Thach An, Bao Lac, Bao Lam, etc under PAM afforestation projects, or programs 30a, 135.

Through the introduction, we visited Cao Chuong commune, Tra Linh district (old), now merged as Trung Khanh district,  one of the localities with the largest and oldest star anise growing area in Cao Bang province.

The canopy of the star anise tree is quite thick and wide, not only do its flowers bring in valuable income, but it also has great significance to improve forest cover and quality. (Photo: Cong Hai).

Mr. La Van Canh in Doong Giai village, former Chairman of Cao Chuong commune, said: At that time, many areas of hill and forest land were vacant. By implementing the forest land allocation program, each household was assigned 3-4 ha of forest, some households were assigned 7-8 ha. In the early 1990s, the State supported forest seedlings, including star anise under the PAM program. From 1997 to 2000 was the period with the most cultivated star anise area.

However, at that time, the majority of local people did not know the right process to plant star anise. In some locations, star anise was planted too densely, while in other locations, the tree was too sparse. In addition, the value of star anise more than 20 years ago was also not high. So people only treat it as a forest tree to cover the mountains and almost do not take care of it.

Mr. Thang Van An, Chairman of the People’s Committee of Cao Chuong Commune said: Recognizing that star anise is a tree suitable to the local climate and soil conditions and brings high economic efficiency, etc, the commune has put it into the commune’s economic development strategy and oriented to become a spearhead tree in poverty reduction in the locality.

Through some programs and projects, the commune has coordinated with the district to invest in seedlings, guide the techniques of planting and caring, and propagandize farmers to expand the growing area of star anise.

Thanks to the right techniques of planting and caring, the star anise forest in Doong Giai village, Cao Chuong commune, Trung Khanh district is well developed. (Photo: Toan Nguyen).

Up to now, most of the villages in the commune have star anise growing areas but are much concentrated in the villages such as Ban Pat, Doong Giai, Tai Nam, Tan Lap, Son Lo, etc with a total area of over 600 ha. Of which, nearly 500 ha are being harvested with an average yield of 3 – 4 tonnes/ha, an average output of 1,300 – 1,500 tonnes of fresh star anise, and an annual income of the whole commune of 30 – 40 billion VND.

Mr. Ha Minh Hai, Head of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Department of Trung Khanh district, said: Star anise tree is one of the main crops of the district. From the tree considered by people as a forest tree, in recent years, when the price of star anise flower has increased and stabilized, people have become aware of the investment in care and fertilization to help the tree grow well from planting stage to harvest.

The growing area of star anise trees of the whole district is now more than 1,000 ha, of which, about 90% is being harvested. Annually, the average production of fresh star anise flowers in the district is about 2,500 – 3,000 tonnes, mainly concentrated in Cao Chuong, Xuan Noi communes, and Tra Linh town.

Each year, star anise trees bring an average income of 50 – 70 billion VND to the people. Through the cultivation of star anise, many households have an average income of 20 – 30 million VND/year, and many other households have an income of 100 – 200 million VND/year. Star anise trees have brought in high income, changing the lives of many households in Trung Khanh district.

Annually, the district coordinates with the Forest Management Unit of Quay Son River to plant new and replace old and inefficient trees. From many sources, Trung Khanh district supports farmers with seedlings and fertilizers to continue expanding the growing area of star anise.

Turn the star anise into a high-value commodity tree

Speaking of star anise trees, Thach An is a strongly developing district with the largest growing area in Cao Bang province. Currently, Thach An district has 2,560 ha of star anise, concentrated in the communes of Van Trinh, Duc Xuan, Le Lai, Thuy Hung, Duc Long, Quang Trong, and Dong Khe Town.

Currently, the star anise tree brings in the main income to people in the Cao Bang highlands. In many places, farmers get rich thanks to this tree. (Photo: Cong Ha)

In the 2021 crop, Mr. Hoang Van Sien in Lung Man village, Van Trinh commune, got a bumper season. More than 4 ha of his star anise area brings in an income of nearly 200 million VND thanks to the high and stable price.

Mr. Sien excitedly said: “Thanks to star anise, my family’s life has changed a lot. From the original small area, so far with 4 ha of star anise, of which more than 3 ha for harvest has brought an average income of 80 to more than 100 million VND/year. Thanks to the tree, my family can build a house and life is more and more improved. “

Planting star anise trees is quite simple, only requiring care when the tree is young. Once it has grown higher than 1m, it does not take much care and pest control like some other crops. The economic efficiency is relatively stable and for long-term harvest. Each year, the tree flowers twice in a row.

The first round of flowers is from the end of June to the end of July and the next for harvest in December of the previous year to February of the following year. The second round continues right after the first round, which can be harvested in about August – September. After harvesting, people in the commune mainly sell fresh star anise to small traders from Cao Bang and Lang Son cities.

Currently, the market for star anise consumption has been very favorable. (Photo: Internet)

“The price of star anise flowers in recent years has been quite high. The average price of fresh flowers is from 30,000 – 45,000 VND/kg, off-season flowers can be up to 80,000 – 90,000 VND/kg. The situation of stagnation of star anise flowers, forced prices by private traders also no longer happens as in previous years,” added Mr. Sien.

Ms. Hoang Thi Duyen, Director of Cao Bang Provincial Forest Protection Department, said: Star anise trees, in addition to their high economic value, are valuable forestry trees covering empty hills in many localities of Cao Bang.

In addition to the policy of supporting intensive investment in the existing area of star anise in production forests, renovation of old age forests, new planting in the vacant and inefficient hill land is also of interest.

In the past time, the processes including selecting varieties, planting, caring, and harvesting have also been propagated by all sectors to each household to improve productivity and quality of star anise products. People have cared to develop trees well, so the production of star anise has also increased, no longer depending on the weather as before.

To improve the value, it is necessary to attract more businesses to invest in deep processing of star anise products. (Photo: CH)

According to statistics, the area of star anise in Cao Bang province is more than 5,000 ha, mainly concentrated in districts: Thach An, Bao Lac, Trung Khanh, and Bao Lam. Annually, fresh and dried star anise flowers are sold to traders inside and outside the province and exported to China.

In addition, in Bao Lac and Bao Lam districts, many cooperative groups and households have invested in machines to extract essential oils from star anise leaves, bringing higher economic value. Essential oil product has achieved the provincial OCOP 3-star product, which is well-rated for quality.

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Truan, Deputy Director of Cao Bang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said: Cao Bang’s soil is very suitable for star anise trees. In the coming years, this tree is still one of the main multi-use forestry trees in economic development and poverty reduction in many localities./.