Many farmers in Da Lat in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, the country's largest artichoke cultivation area, have switched to other crops as the prices for artichokes has dropped.

Farmer Hoang Thi Phuong in Ward 12 said she earned a profit of 50 million VND (2,300 USD) from 1,000sq.m of artichoke in last year's crop but, only 30 million VND from this year's crop.

"Other farmers and I myself have to set up green houses to plant chrysanthemums, which can provide a profit of 70 million VND per 1,000sq.m," she said.

Nguyen Thi Thu Nguyet, chairwoman of the Ward 12 People's Committee, said her ward had 170 families planting 50ha of artichoke last year.

"This year, the artichoke cultivation area has been reduced by 10ha because many families have switched to growing flowers," she said.

The price of artichokes has declined by 30 percent against last year.

Ward 12 used to have up to 80ha of artichoke in 2005, accounting for 80 percent of Da Lat's total artichoke area.

Farmer Hoang Thoi in Ward 12, who had planted artichoke for 20 years, is now growing flowers.

"Artichoke cultivation requires a lot of tending. The costs of fertiliser, pesticide and labour have increased while the price has dropped," he said.

Over the past three years, the price of artichoke has fallen continuously and the profit of planting 1,000sq.m of artichoke was about 17-20 million VND, he said.

Ho Ngoc Dinh, chairman of the Ward 12 Farmers Association, said that earnings from artichokes are insufficient for farmers to cover their costs, while earnings from planting flowers are two to three times higher than that of artichokes.

"If the current price of artichoke continues for a long time, no one would plant artichokes within the next two or three years," he said.

Some farmers continue to plant artichokes because they lack capital and have no electricity in their gardens, both of which are necessary for planting flowers.

Similarly, Ward 11 has nearly 100 families planting 15ha of artichokes, and this area is expected to decline by 30 percent in the next crop because of low prices, according to the Ward 11 Farmers Association.

In Vietnam , artichokes are grown only in Da Lat in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong and in Sa Pa in the northern province of Lao Cai.

Artichokes are used as a food and are part of the Health Ministry's pharmaceutical-product use.-VNA