Island garlic brand damaged by fake mainland products
Despite the efforts of local authorities, garlic products from Ninh Hiển in Khánh Hòa Province and Phan Rang of Ninh Thuận Province, sold under the Lý Sơn trademark, have dominated the local market – where the famous crop had been rooted for generations.
Poor measures to control fraudsters and a lack of brand protection have added to unfair competition among farm produce.
Additionally, the local government has yet to find a solution to the common issue of prices plummeting after a bumper crop.
“Islanders saw a bumper harvest this year with total 2,500 tonnes of dried garlic on 300ha of farms, but it could only be sold at VNĐ60,000 (US$2.6) or VNĐ70,000 ($3) per kilo at the island’s centre market. Meanwhile, Lý Sơn brand garlic was sold at VNĐ100,000 ($4.4) in mainland supermarkets” said vice chairwoman of the island district’s people’s committee, Phạm Thị Hương.
Hương slammed the fake garlic products from Khánh Hòa and Ninh Thuận, which were shipped from mainland to the island, resulting in lower prices.
Lý Sơn garlic is seen smaller than the other garlic products. — VNS Photo Ngọc Sơn
The vice chairwoman said the district seized 620kg of garlic that was headed from Khánh Hòa to the island last year.
She said fraudsters are mostly Lý Sơn-born farmers who have been living in Khánh Hòa Province’s Ninh Hiển commune. They often took garlic seeds from the island to farm in Khánh Hòa and Ninh Thuận before transporting the garlic back to the island to falsely sell it as the more expensive Lý Sơn garlic, she said.
“We have conducted constant inspections, but some traders intentionally mixed different garlic products in packages without any label or certificates of origin. Only islanders could recognise original Lý Sơn garlic, but not tourists,” Hương said.
Dương Ngọc Sơn, an islander, said garlic from other provinces were easier to grow on mainland’s farms, and these products could be sold at VNĐ30,000 ($1.3).
“Fraudsters could earn triple when they disguised fake garlic as Lý Sơn garlic. It damages the protected brand of the island. We face losses when Lý Sơn garlic is priced at VNĐ60,000 (US$2.6) for a dried kilo at the moment,” Sơn said.
“I’m sure that Lý Sơn garlic could supply enough for tourists and registered supermarkets in the mainland,” he said.
He blamed the local government for not tackling fake garlic, with inspections of cargo ships from the mainland poor and small fines ineffective.
Package of registered Lý Sơn garlic is seen at a shop in the mainland. — VNS Photo Công Thành
Sơn said the brand ownership for the products of Lý Sơn Island including garlic, onion, seafood, garlic wine, dried seafood and seaweed were recognised by the National Office of Intellectual Property of Việt Nam, under the Ministry of Science and Technology, for 50 households and individuals on the island in 2007.
However, the anti-counterfeiting stamp and logo of the Lý Sơn products have yet to be issued and tourists are still confused about fake and original garlic even on the island.
Vice chairman of the Island’s Garlic and Purple Onion Processing and Trade Association, Nguyễn Văn Định suggested that heavy fines, joint-inspections of border guards and market watch forces at all ships at ports and original certificate stamps on Lý Sơn products could help stop fake garlic trading.
“Our association has 100 members who are Lý Sơn farmers. We live on garlic and purple onion farming. The fake garlic could result in bankruptcy among farmers, while fraudsters could live well,” Định said.
He said Lý Sơn garlic seeds planted in Khánh Hòa and Phan Rang often have double productivity compared to those on Lý Sơn Island.
“Islanders spend too much on labour and disaster risks in farming garlic on the island. The soil is a mixture of basalt, white sand, fertiliser and limited fresh water. Consumers could hardly recognise the difference between garlic from Khánh Hòa and Lý Sơn Island as the two garlic products are about 80 per cent similar,” Định said.
He added that Lý Sơn garlic could only clearly be identified due to its milky colour and tiny cloves, while Ninh Hiển and Phan Rang garlic products are bigger and whiter.
Định confirmed that original Lý Sơn garlic is only sold at the central market in Lý Sơn Islands, Big C supermarkets on the mainland and registered trademark shops.
According to Lý Sơn People’s Committee, the local government has been building Geographical Indication (GI) for better protection of Lý Sơn garlic.
The island, known as the Kingdom of Garlic in Việt Nam, has 21,000 inhabitants, of whom 73 per cent make their living from farming garlic and spring onions or fishing.
A high-tech farm producing organic garlic has been built on the island, with a total investment of $177,000.
The island produced 2,500 tonnes of garlic and 6,500 tonnes of purple onion from 1,000ha of farmland last year.