When the Lai Chau hydro-electric power plant is completed, it will help Lai Chau province make the most of its natural resources.
Located in the northwest of Vietnam, 450 km from, Lai Chau has great potential for services, trade, export-import and, tourism and a very important strategic position in terms of national defense, security, and protection of national border sovereignty.
A Radio Voice of Vietnam (VOV) reporter interviewed Secretary of the Lai Chau provincial Party Committee Nguyen Minh Quang about advantages and disadvantages and future plans to tap into Lai Chau’s potential.
Reporter: Lai Chau is one of the least developed provinces in the country. What should be done to help it keep pace with other localities?
Mr Quang: Currently, we are scrutinising disadvantages and advantages in order to draw up a reasonable action plan.
Lai Chau has a vast area of forest, hills and mountains with narrow, deep valleys, rivers and streams. Despite having a total area of 10,000 km2, the province is only inhabited by 370,000 people, mostly ethnic minority groups with limited education, resulting in a shortage of skilled workers.
It is difficult for Lai Chau to attract investment due to poor infrastructure, including electricity, roads, schools and healthcare centres.
However, the province has the advantage of natural resources. Lai Chau and Son La have the biggest advantage in hydro-electric power development in the country. The Vietnamese Government has decided to break ground on a project to build a Lai Chau hydro-electric power plant with a capacity of 1,200 MW, equivalent to half of the Son La project’s capacity. In addition, projects will be carried out at Ban Chat, Huoi Qua and Nam Hang to bring the total capacity of power plants in Lai Chau to 2,500 MW in the near future.
Lai Chau is also abundant in minerals, mainly building material minerals such as limestone and granite. Limestone is particularly abundant in Tam Duong and Sin Ho districts with large reserves of hundreds of millions of tonnes.
Reporter: French and Vietnamese geologists have long maintained that Lai Chau is rich in rare and precious minerals. Could you please elaborate on this natural resources?
Mr Quang: Lai Chau is rich in rare and precious minerals and metals such as iron, lead, zinc, gold and rare earth. The province has the biggest deposits of rare earth in Vietnam with estimated reserves of 21 million tonnes. If Lai Chau has enough qualified scientists and technicians to tap into its mineral potential properly, its local economy can be shifted from agro-forestry to industry. Lai Chau has 912,000 hectares of land including 400,000 ha for forestry, 72,000 ha for crops, more than 29,000 ha for rice, and hundreds of ha of unused land. This great potential is opening to develop new industries such as rubber and bio-fuels.
Reporter: Despite its great potential for development, why does Lai Chau remain poor?
Mr Quang: Turning potential into prosperity can’t be overnight with poor infrastructure and a lack of advanced technology or highly skilled workers.
Reporter: So it can only be done with support from central agencies?
Mr Quang: Not really. What belongs to the national scale will be decided by the State. What belongs to the local level will be implemented under resolutions adopted by the provincial Party Committee.
Lai Chau is currently giving top priority to developing transport infrastructure with the construction of major roads in Muong Te and Sin Ho districts, which have a lot of difficulties but share strong potential for tourism development.
The Vietnamese Government is surveying the Tan Uyen area to build an airport there. Other projects to develop the power grids and infrastructure facilities will be carried out in the near future. With such positive developments, we are very optimistic about the future of Lai Chau.
Reporter: It is possible to say that Lai Chau is not a poor province, but it is facing numerous difficulties. Is that right?
Mr Quang: That’s right. We have a strong belief in the province’s bright prospects, especially now that the Lai Chau hydro-electric power project is nearing completion. The Lai Chau plant will not only ensure the stable supply of electricity to local people but also help improve their living conditions.
In addition, Lai Chau has enormous potential for tourism development. Twenty ethnic minority groups who have been living in Lai Chau for generations embrace a diverse cultural identity in the province. Lai Chau also has many historical relic sites and artifacts of ancient Vietnamese people, including agricultural tools made of stone and bronze dating back thousands of years to the time of Dong Son culture and the Hung King Dynasty.
A travel agent from the UK recently called Pu Dao hamlet – home to more than 880 Mong ethnic minority people in Sin Ho district - one of the five most attractive tourist destinations in Southeast Asia.
Moreover, Lai Chau has many festivals reflecting the cultural identity of various ethnic minority groups, such as the Nang Han, Kim Pang Then and Han Kuong, the flower festivals of the Thai, the new rice festival of the La Hu, the Gau Tao festival of the Mong and the fishing festival of the Khang. Visitors to Lai Chau can hear Quan folk singing at the wedding ceremonies of Tay ethnic minority people and enjoy the Xoe dancing of the Thai ethnic minority people. They will enjoy the beautiful melodies played on musical instruments of the Mong people and paintings of the Day people.
Tourists will also never forget Muong Te honey, Sung Phai maize wine, or the sticky rice, fish and special grilled dishes of the Thai.
Lai Chau has many handicraft villages, such as Muong Te rattan, Tam Duong vermicelli, Than Uyen brocade weaving and Sin Ho silver casting. Each craft village has its own features which are different from other localities nationwide.
The province is endowed with many beautiful natural landscapes, including a high range of mountains above 1,500m covered by cloud and fog all year round. The weather here is very pleasant when the air is fresh. The province has hot mineral springs and many big rivers.
In recent years, Lai Chau has invested in rubber cultivation and achieved success thanks to good weather and modern technology. The province received strong support from the Political Bureau to shift its plant structure. Recently, the Government approved a project to grow rubber in three provinces: Lai Chau, Dien Bien and Son La. Today, rubber is being grown in Sin Ho district of Lai Chau province.
Reporter: In addition to developing infrastructure, especially the transport network, what will be Lai Chau’s key projects in the future?
Mr Quang: Lai Chau will focus on developing human resources to meet its increasing demand for labour. It is essential to increase the quality of education for ethnic minority people. The province aims to popularize secondary education in the next five years.
At present, 25 percent of workers are trained, while the quality of the contingent of cadres is gradually improving. However, five out of seven districts in the province have their name on the list of the country’s poorest districts. They are Muong Te, Sin Ho, Phong Thi, Tan Uyen and Than Uyen. To improve living conditions for ethnic minority people in these districts, the Prime Minister has created incentive policies to build houses and grant financial assistance.
Meanwhile, we are boosting economic development at the two border gates of Kim Binh and Binh Ha. We are also calling for both domestic and foreign investors to run business in Lai Chau to help the province escape from poverty and become prosperous in the near future.