Making artworks and decorative items from dried coconut shells has seen one family business earn significant revenue and create jobs.
Sometimes the best ideas and opportunities come when they’re not expected. During a visit to south-central Phu Yen province, Mr Pham Hong Bao, a graduate of the Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts, noticed that tons of coconut shells were simply being thrown away. “I picked one up and ground out a small piece, and saw that multiple colours like white, yellow, brown, and black revealed themselves,” he said. Mr Bao and his father then took half a coconut shell to the province’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology to test and analyse its components and determined it contained no harmful substances. The young man urged his father to build a workshop to recycle the coconuts into decorative artistic items and artworks, and arranged for a couple of young local workers be trained as craftsmen.
Mr Bao purchases three to five tons of dried coconut shells for VND20,000 ($0.95) per 25-kg bag each month. “The coconut shells must first be processed through several stages, such as pre-processing and sorting into size, colour and shape,” Mr Bao explained. “The craftsmen design motifs on paper before creating the actual art work or item.” Using shell fragments of different sizes, the workshop produces jewellery, souvenirs, and fixtures for the home. Each year it exports 3 million products, including household items, home décor items, souvenirs such as plates and trays, and desk lamps, among others, to Japan, the US, and Germany, with Japan being the largest market. The business earns around VND2 billion ($95,000) in revenue each year and now provides employment for dozens of local workers and children with disabilities, paying a monthly salary of VND2.5-3 million ($120-$140).
Mr Bao and his father also make giant vases, lamps and ornamental birds at the workshop. Since 2005 they’ve set three national records for the largest coconut shell handicrafts ever made in Vietnam. But they are determined to go further. They may well have been the first to build a floating restaurant that floats on coconut shells, in Phu Yen’s Tuy Hoa town. The restaurant was made from five tons of coconut shells and other light materials, piquing the curiosity of local people and representing their first foray into the field of tourism.
Their company, the Lac Hong Tourism-Service Company, together with the Binh SVC Company, recently created an art work entitled “Bo Gu” - an oceanic tuna made entirely of coconut shells - for display at the Vietnam - Phu Yen Seafood Festival 2014. The artwork has a length of 6 metres and a height of 2.8 metres, and weighs 350 kilograms. Its shape was intricately carved from millions of pieces of coconut shell, as well as a number of composite materials, and cost VND315 million ($15,000) to make. The artwork appeared at the festival’s street parade on the evening of April 1. “The art works and items of Mr Bao and his family are unique and are popular both here and abroad,” said a representative from the Phu Yen Provincial People’s Committee. “They not only create jobs for local people but also provide some unexpected cash to local farmers, by buying their coconut shells.”