Quang Nam (VNA) - Tra Que Village in Hoi An City, a destination for its farm tours through vegetable gardens, has recently become known as a producer of essential natural oils derived from herbs for the cosmetic industry.

Nguyen Kim Bay, 48, a farmer in Tra Que Village, located 2km from Hoi An Town, used to earn about 4 million VND (190 USD) per month from the sale of vegetables grown in his family's 400sq.m garden.

The villagers then started earning more by organising farm tours for visitors or by supplying vegetables grown without the use of chemical fertilisers or growth additives to supermarkets in the ancient town and the neighbouring Da Nang City.

Now, gardening, a major source of income for the nearly 3,000-strong population in the village over the past four centuries, could well turn out to be a successful business, as some oils and other products can be extracted from locally-grown vegetables for the cosmetic industry.

An area of 18ha, allocated for organic vegetable farming under a brand name recognised by the Intellectual Property Rights Office of Vietnam in 2009, will be used to make essential oils only.

"It's a very new industry in suburban Hoi An City. The villagers will earn more with vegetable farms becoming essential oil suppliers along with tourist services," Le Thuy Hien, director of Vietnam Natural Cosmetics Company, said.

"We want to develop Tra Que Village as a new brand in a sustainable way to ensure villagers' incomes and to develop a value chain for the industry, along with tourist services," Hien said.

Hien said various herbs such as basil, mint, coriander (coriandrum sativum) or Chinese parsley, besides citronella and other cosmetic herbs from the village garden are rich in oil.

She said products such as shampoo, shower gel, skin cream and soap, as well as perfumes with natural aroma could be made with herbs from vegetable farms in Tra Que Village.

Hien said a plant to manufacture vegetable oil would be built at Hoi An's Thanh Ha Industrial Park over 2,500sq.m, with a total investment of 60 billion VND (2.7 million USD).

It would be the company's largest plant in Vietnam, after the ones built in Ha Giang, Vinh Phuc and Yen Bai in the North.

Nguyen Van Nghi, an expert in essential oil research, said Tra Que and the area along the rivers of Thu Bon and Ba in Quang Nam Province have natural potential for essential oil production from vegetables and herbs.

"Alluvium on the river banks of the villages in Dien Ban and Dai Loc districts and Tra Que provide vast areas for aromatic herbs farms, ensuring profitable agriculture and sustainable development for the local people," Nghi said.

"Natural oil cosmetics, health food, massage oils and healthcare products from Vietnam are popular in Europe, while there is a lot of potential to develop essential oil plants in the country," he said.

Nghi said local farmers need to be trained in various techniques and a strict farming process should be established to develop oil extraction plants.

Hoang Dong, chief executive officer of the Vietnam Natural Cosmetics Company, said Tra Que Village could produce 18 tonnes of vegetables for producing oil used in cosmetics, which have superior quality compared with their counterparts sold in supermarkets.

Dong said Tra Que was fully qualified to develop as a producer of natural oils in the long term, with its 500-year tradition of farming and application of organic processes over the past years.

He said local farmers use only manure made of sea weeds and fresh water in their gardens, adding that farmers need more education to improve their awareness about the strict regulations that govern cultivation of herbs to reach international standards. These regulations cover everything, extending from raw materials to final packaging of oil or cosmetic products for export.

Pham Meo, a farmer in Tra Que, said he was very surprised with the impact of essential oil production.

"It's a huge change. Earlier, we earned only from working hard in the garden, along with tourist services that started booming a few years ago. However, we are very positive about the new industry that uses our vegetable farms as we can increase our incomes," Meo said.

"Villagers use a mixture of ginger, chilli, garlic and alcohol to drive away insects and worms from the garden. That's the way we have developed our safe and good-quality brand of vegetables made in Tra Que," the 75-year-old said, adding that villagers always commit to provide the best natural products.

Chairman of Hoi An City People's Committee Nguyen Van Dung said natural essential oil production would develop the Tra Que brand, making it a favourite destination for safe farm products.

"There is good cooperation between farmers and businesses. We'll give all support to improve the value of the village's products, besides tourism and agriculture," Dung said.

"Tra Que will be known as a peaceful village that produces essential oils with its herbs. We do hope that the villagers can be part of a value chain that extends from farming to oil production," he said.

Hien, director of the Vietnam Natural Cosmetics Company, said natural essential oil production must ensure sustainable development and conservation of nature.

"We have to balance profit and nature conservation with strict rules and by maintaining international standards. We want to create made-in-Hoi An products that connect with tourism and culture," she said.-VNA