Between April 2015 and June 2016, VECO Vietnam and Duy Tien district’s Women’s Union implemented the project « Scaling out PGS among smallholder farmers, consumers and private actors in Vietnam » in Ha Nam province. The project which was generously funded by Both Ends and 11.11.11 aimed to set up a local Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) for organic vegetables, and to strengthen the Trac Van Collaborative Group, a recently-formed farmer organisation, in order to better link farmers with the market.
A journey to PGS organic farming: The story from Trac Van
A journey to PGS organic farming: The story from Trac Van
A journey to autonomy
During the 14 months of the project, farmers received training to improve their business, organisational and organic production skills. They learned how to design production plans to meet the demand from Hanoi-based buyers, improved their record-keeping, and are now able to conduct cost-benefit analyses. The Collaborative Group managed to reduce dependency risk by signing supply contracts with five different retailers, compared to one in 2014. It is now much more confident in organising group activities, marketing its produce and operating PGS autonomously. In order to increase its resilience, the farmers set up a common fund to mobilise capital and other resources from members with a view to further develop their organic vegetables production through the purchase of new seeds, organic fertilisers and farming equipment.
As Ms. Tuyet, the group leader, explains: “We feel more confident in communicating what we do and we now possess the technical skills to do intensive farming, manage pests and diseases, produce off-season vegetables and make production plans.” Thanks to technical training on intercropping, off-season vegetables planting and integrated pest control, the yields for the first 6 months of 2016 (24 tons) have considerably improved compared to the same period in 2015 (14 tons).
We feel more confident in communicating what we do and we now possess the technical skills to do intensive farming, manage pests and diseases, produce off-season vegetables and make production plans.
Expansion of the production area
Motivated by the early success of the small pilot production area, 7 new farmers joined the Collaborative Group which was previously composed of 19 vegetables farmers. The Group is now divided into four subgroups, compared to two previously. The two pre-existing subgroups have already obtained PGS certification for organic vegetables, while the two new groups are still in the conversion phase. Coached by more experienced farmers, they hope to obtain PGS certification within a year and to be able to sell their organic vegetables to Hanoi-based buyers. The production area also expanded from 1 to 3 hectares in the space of one year. Currently, about 90% of the production is sold to Hanoi-based buyers while 10% is consumed locally.
Better livelihoods for Trac Van farmers
Farmers’ income has significantly increased since the start of the project. In the second half of 2013, farmers derived approximately 60 million VND/ha (approx. 2,400€) from the sale of their vegetables. In the first semester of 2016, the figure reached 360 million VND/ha (approx. 14,400€), a staggering increase! On average, farmers are able to sell their PGS-certified vegetables at a price approximately 150-200% higher than that of conventional vegetables.
In addition, thanks to the use of organic methods, farmers are now working in a safe, chemical-free environment, which is ultimately improving their health. Trac Van farmers are making their own organic fertilisers and herbal pesticides, and use manual weeding methods, thus avoiding the negative health and environmental impact of toxic agrochemicals. When needed, they buy natural manure from a neighbouring chicken farm.
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Attracting interest from authorities and buyers
The Trac Van Collaborative Group is now well-known among stakeholders in the area. Thanks to farm visits and the Group’s participation in various fairs, the Trac Van Collaborative Group has been able to establish relations with other farmer organisations and potential buyers. Additional project activities focused on raising awareness on the trustworthiness of PGS-certified organic vegetables and promoting PGS to consumers, retailers and government departments across Ha Nam province.
The Collaborative Group has attracted the attention of local authorities such as the Ha Nam Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that offered to connect the farmers with more buyers in the province. The provincial Quality Assurance Department also committed to help the Group send its vegetables for lab testing and assist them to obtain the provincial food safety certificate required to supply institutional buyers such as hotels and large companies.
What can be hoped for the future?
Although VECO’s interventions formally ended at the end of June, farmers are more determined than ever to continue their PGS journey. In the near future, they hope to increase the production area first to 5 hectares, then to 10 hectares, and to attract even more farmers to the Group. The Collaborative Group also wishes to further develop its capacity to coordinate and facilitate collective production, marketing and selling for the benefits of its members. Ultimately, it hopes to partner up with more and bigger buyers, and to be able to satisfy their requirements.
PGS in Trac Van is still in its infancy stage but it has already demonstrated remarkable results. The experience in Trac Van provides solid evidence that PGS is an effective way both to improve farmers’ livelihoods in terms of income, quality of life and environmental sustainability, and to supply cities with quality organic food for the benefit of consumers. In the future, VECO and its partners will work towards the institutionalisation and recognition of PGS as an effective and reliable quality assurance mechanism by Vietnamese authorities with the hope to facilitate the upscaling and replication of this successful model elsewhere in the country.
If you would like additional information on VECO’s work in the safe and organic vegetables subsector, please get in touch with VECO’s Project Officer Ms. Pham Thi Kim Nhung at nhung [at] veco.org.vn