Participatory Guarantee Systems for safe vegetables in Vietnam
Participatory Guarantee Systems for safe vegetables in Vietnam
Food safety scandals are run-of-the-mill in Vietnam: not a week goes by without a new scandal being reported in the newspapers. The chronic overuse of dangerous and low quality pesticides poses a risk for farmers and consumers. The Vietnamese consumer is becoming more and more conscious of this danger, which manifests itself in the rapid increase of the demand for safe, organic vegetables that meet standards of safety and hygiene. This growing demand for organically and safely produced vegetables is a great opportunity for Vietnamese vegetable farmers. If they respond to this market demand, they are able to not only increase their income, but also to feed local communities in a safe, sustainable way. Farmers that produce safe and organic vegetables can have their vegetables certified by an external party, but this process is often costly and very complex. This is not a viable route for smallholder farmers.
PGS, the Participatory Guarantee System, is the alternative: it is a quality assurance system that guarantees the quality of safe agricultural products and has the potential to regain consumer trust. PGS differs from third party certifications in a number of ways. First of all, in its cost: it is much less expensive. Secondly, in its complexity: it entails far less administrative burden. Both of these make it more in line with the reality of smallholder farmers. A third big difference is its approach. As the name suggests, direct participation of farmers and even consumers in the guarantee process is required. Principles and rules for safe or organic production are conceived and applied through contributions of all stakeholders: producers, government, private sector and consumers. They are adapted to fit the local context, taking into account individual communities, geographic area, cultural environment and markets. The credibility of production quality and safety is enhanced by the participation of different stakeholders at different stages.
Firm believer in the benefits of PGS, Rikolto and its partners are currently working with 10 farmer organisations in 4 provinces in northern Vietnam (Ha Nam, Phu Tho, Da Nang and Vinh Phuc) to help build up the production and marketing skills of farmers. We use the outcomes of these projects to convince provincial and national governments of PGS’ potential as a low-cost and reliable certification system, in the hope that it will be officially recognized and endorsed.
- The Vietnamese government supports VietGAP, an expensive, labour-intensive and complex third-party certification which remains largely inaccessible to smallholders. While the total vegetable production in Vietnam is estimated to be about 735,000 ha, only 63,000 ha (8%) have a VietGAP certificate (Dao Bach Khoa et. al. 2015).
- Small-scale farmers often lack knowledge and experience on how to apply good agricultural practices that are compatible with food safety and organic standards.
- Many of our partner cooperatives and collaborative groups were recently established and lack the business and organisational capacity to reach their full potential as businesses.
- Farmers lack experience with post-harvest practices leading to significant food loss.
- Farmer organisations often struggle to enter into sustainable relations an contracts with companies, often because of a lack of commitment from the buyers and poor marketing capacity.
- Although over 90% of consumers are worried about food safety in Hanoi, less than 5% of vegetables sold have evidence that they are safe. One of the reasons why consumers are reluctant to pay a higher price for safe vegetables is their lack of trust in vendors and certifications.
- Support farmers in implementing safe and organic production methods, in accordance with the BasicGAP or Organic PGS standards;
- Set up and support the management of Participatory Guarantee System to lead towards their independent operations;
- Train farmers and coach them on marketing, business & production planning, organisational management, business negotiation, accounting, post harvest loss, etc.;
- Engage Vietnamese consumers to participate in PGS and to raise their awareness on the issue of safe and sustainable vegetables consumption;
- Facilitate the development of long-term inclusive business relationships between farmers, wholesalers, supermarkets and vegetable stores to achieve win-win trading relationships. One of the approaches that we use is the LINK methodology developed by CIAT to improve the collaboration between farmers and private sector actors.
- Develop a PGS toolbox to support interested practitioners in setting up and maintaining their own PGS systems.
- Document our results and lessons learned to advocate district, provincial and national governments to support and invest in PGS as a reliable and affordable quality assurance system for the benefit of small-scale farmers and consumers.
How do Participatory Guarantee Systems work?
Rikolto's excellent performance in agricultural support in Vinh Phuc province 2016-2022
On April 20, 2021, Rikolto’s team received a certificate of merit from the Chairman of Vinh Phuc Provincial People's Committee. The province is located northwest of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam.
Since 2018, Rikolto in Vietnam has cooperated with Vinh Phuc Farmers' Union, Vinh Phuc Department of Crop Production and Plant Protection to implement the project "Building a sustainable vegetable value chain for smallholders in Vinh Phuc” to support the implementation of safe and sustainable food policies with the participation of small-scale farmers.
After more than three years of implementation, up to now, the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) has been established in 4 cooperatives with more than 100 participating farmer households. Farmers and cooperative staff are trained in production techniques, supervised compliance with PGS criteria, production planning, trade, and access to markets. In particular, the project also supports cooperatives to connect with businesses to develop and expand supply chains for production and consumption.
Rikolto's support has contributed to building a more conducive environment for sustainable safe vegetable value chains, positively impacting the local economic, social and environmental development, which was highly acknowledged by the authorities of Vinh Phuc province.
Video on the Project in Vinh Phuc supported by Rikolto:
Training workshop in Hanam: Leadership skills, Finance Management, and Accounting skills.
We initially thought accounting profession was something extremely difficult, it turned out to be the type of work that can be applied daily
On Feb 27, 2019, Management Board members and farmer groups’ leaders of Thanh Son and Cat Lai cooperatives, both of whom are targeted cooperatives at Hanam of Rikolto in Vietnam, were at Department of Crop and Plant Protection to participate in the training workshop of leadership and accounting. This event is in the series of activities which aim to strengthen management capacity of the cooperatives in order for them to produce safe vegetables and do business more effectively.
Overcoming the initial anxiety, attendees took part in the class activities more eagerly, getting to know with concepts, techniques in management and accounting.
During the workshop, one participant shared with us: “We initially thought accounting profession was something sublime, it turned out to be the type of work that can be applied daily.” One important note is that our partner Department of Crop and Plant Protection also sent their staff to join the training workshop, considering the fact that quite a few of them haven’t had exposure to this kind of content, so as to better assist both the cooperatives and the work they are doing.
This training was offered by International Labour Organization’s senior lecturer.
Hanam IPM Ending Workshop
More often, local famers knew no difference between pest insects and their natural enemies. They thought those are detrimental to the crops alike. And the farmers told us that they would keep spraying pesticides on all of them, without attending this IPM to learn more about how pest predators can help farmers by eating pest insects themselves
On Jan 26, 2019, our implementing partner, Hanam Crop and Plant Protection Department, together with Hanam Department of Quality Control, have had an ending workshop about Integrated Pest Management ( IPM ) for 35 farmers in Thanh Son cooperative, Thanh Son commune, Hanam province.
The workshop is the end in the series of lessons within the 3-month IPM training class which started in Oct 2018, aiming to coach smallholder farmers on how to integrate pest management practices in growing safe cabbages.
The class was divided into 4 groups, practicing on a cultivating area of 200 meters square. Each group worked on how to grow cabbages effectively using different volumes of input elements separately. The four elements are potassium, organic fertilizers, nitrogenous fertilizers, plus the difference in the numbers of insect pests and their natural enemies. They kept checking periodically within 3 months and comparing the results with the normal cultivating area to notice and keep track of the differences.
The workshop gave them a chance to have better insights, to look back, and present what they had learnt during the class, as well as sharing and discussing what they think should be the best to apply for their crops in future. They also pointed out that the cabbages with less nitrogenous fertilizer and more organic fertilizer taste much better, which they enjoyed eating themselves.
The local farmers, mostly women, really loved this IPM class, which was shown through their poems, their songs that they sang and hummed for their teachers and coaches on the day. That gave more motivation for the organizers. The Hanam Crop and Plant Protection, plus the director of Thanh Son Cooperative also shared their happiness, acknowledged the effort that the farmers made during the 3 months of training. They also shared the difficulties that the local farmers are facing on the pathway of growing vegetables. One of the big issues is how to raise consumers’ awareness, and to connect more buyers and private companies to buy safe vegetables from smallholder farmers. This remains a big challenge that needs to be tackled by different actors within the vegetables value chain, considering the first step that is being taken –which is smallholder farmers’ willingness to learn how to grow safe vegetables and they are already adopting those practices in the field.
Rikolto and KU Leuven collaborate on new research project
Together with KU Leuven, the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, Rikolto is implementing a short research project to understand under which conditions farmers are willing to produce safe vegetables, and enter into a lasting business relationship with companies. Ultimately, our goal is to come up with recommendations of how the business relations between farmers and companies can be improved, so that more safe vegetables can be sold to the markets, and farmers can make a better living out of it. Last week, we welcomed to Vietnam Dr. Goedele Van den Broeck, the leader of this research project for her second research visit to Vietnam. During her trip, she trained students from the Faculty of Food Science and Technology at Vietnam National University of Agriculture to collect data from farmers. Most of the students come themselves from farming families around Hanoi and therefore have a very good understanding of the reality faced by farmers. The research will use both quantitative (choice experiment) and qualitative research methods to understand the trade offs that farmers make when making decisions about vegetable production and marketing. The project ends in December and the research results will be shared shortly after.
PGS Dang Xa in Hanoi carries out first PGS inspection for safe vegetables!
Established less than three months ago, PGS Dang Xa, supported by Hanoi Plant Protection Department and Rikolto, organised its very first PGS inspection. The inspection group applied the new skills that members learned during a training which took place in September. They interviewed farmers, checked production diaries and inspected production sites to ensure that farmers were indeed following safe vegetable production guidelines (BasicGAP). In line with the PGS spirit, inspections do not intend to punish farmers who make mistakes but to support them to learn and improve their production practices. The first inspection ran smoothly: inspectors were supportive of farmers who in turn were eager to fix what needed to be improved.
Safe vegetable project launched in Ha Nam province
In April 2018, the project “Developing sustainable vegetable value chains for smallholders in Ha Nam” was officially launched. At the event, Mr Nguyen Quoc Dat, Director of Ha Nam’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said “Knowledge plays an important role in safe vegetable production”. This is why many of Rikolto's support activities will target capacity building activities in relation to vegetable production, market linkage, post-harvest loss and consumer awareness. The project which will last until 2021 will initially support 3 farmer organisations to produce and market safe vegetables. Itwill also target changes in the institutional environment to support safe vegetable production and consumption. We expect to gradually increase the number of supported farmer organisations in the province throughout the project.
Trac Van Collaborative becomes a cooperative
Trac Van Collaborative Group, one of Rikolto’s partners, is now becoming a cooperative thanks to the support of Ha Nam province’s Cooperative Alliance and the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. This new legal status is a big step forward for the farmers as it enables them to sign contracts directly with buyers without needing any confirmation from district authorities. Congratulations to them! Below are some pictures from the Cooperative’s Establishment Conference.
QR-codes for traceability
Traceability and technology are not only for large-scale farms! Last week, organic vegetables farmers from Trac Van, Ha Nam province, learned how to use QR codes to ensure transparent information for consumers about the origin of their vegetables. By scanning the QR code on their phone, consumers have access to a wide range of information about the vegetables such as the expiry date, the name of the producer, the date of packaging, the type of certificate or quality assurance, and the farmer group's contact details.
Phu Tho province
- Tu Xa Safe Vegetable Cooperative : 54 farmers
- Tu Vu Safe Vegetable Cooperative : 65 farmers
Ha Nam province
- Cat Lai Cooperative: 32 farmers
- Trac VanCooperative: 36 farmers (organic vegetables)
Da Nang municipality
- La Huong Cooperative: 22 farmers
- Ninh An Production group: 38 farmers
- Tuy Loan Cooperative: 40 farmers
Vinh Phuc province
- An Hoa Cooperative: 160 farmers
- Thanh Ha Cooperative: 32 farmers
- Van Hoi Cooperative: 27 farmers
Total number of direct farmer beneficiaries: 506
The current budget committed to the vegetable programme for the period 2017-2021 amounts to 424,709.25 EUR and is largely funded by the Belgian Directorate General for Development. We are constantly looking to expand and diversify our sources of funding. If you wish to support us, please reach out to Ms. Charlotte Flechet at charlotte [at] veco.org.vn. As an international NGO, we are only allowed to receive funds from outside of Vietnam.
What have we achieved between 2014 and 2016?
In June 2014 the Trac Van Cooperative obtained an organic certificate from the PGS Network Vietnam. Since then, the number of farmer members doubled and the production area increased from 1 to 5 ha. Between 2013 and 2016, farmers' income per hectare increased from 60 million VND to 360 million VND. Supply contracts have been drawn up between the cooperative and a number of private actors such as the supermarket chain Bac Tom in Hanoi.
A Participatory Guarantee System was set up in Tan Lac district, Hoa Binh. Farmers are now producing organic vegetables according to PGS organic regulations.
Tan Duc's Participatory Guarantee System in Viet Tri, Phu Tho, has been simplified to ensure a clear certification process and farmers' involvement.
PGS has successfully been taken up and adopted by Tu Xa cooperative in Phu Tho who is now supplying safe vegetables to VinEco, the home brand of one of Vietnam's leading minimart chains Vinmart. Prices are 2-3 times higher than on the local market which allows the cooperative to reinvest part of the profits in strengthening its operations and management.
What do we expect to achieve by 2021?
We expect that by the end of 2021:
- 21 Participatory Guarantee Systems bringing together about 1,100 farmers in Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Ha Nam, Da Nang and Phu Tho provinces are operational, able to function independently from Rikolto and represent a diversity of stakeholders;
- Supported farmer organisations improve their access to safe vegetables markets under good conditions, including through formal contracts that guarantee fair price, long-term commitment and reasonable volumes;
- An inspiring PGS model and toolbox is available for practitioners to set up their own PGS, independently from Rikolto’s support;
- Partner farmers adopt climate-smart and environmentally friendly practices;
- Four provinces have adopted PGS as part of their policies towards safe food and sustainable agriculture;
- PGS networks are operational in 4 provinces to promote a more enabling environment for safe vegetable policies in their respective province and ensure coherence amongst PGS systems;
- The Vietnamese government has taken steps towards the recognition of PGS as a valid quality assurance mechanism and its adoption in national policies;
- Vietnam’s consumer protection system is better able to represent and defend consumers on food safety-related issues.
Contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals
Rikolto in Vietnam’s vegetable programme will specifically contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals:
SDG 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
- Target 1.1. By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day
- Target 1.2. By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
- Target 1.7. Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions
SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
- Target 2.1. By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round
- Target 2.3. By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment
- Target 2.4. By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
- Target 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
- Target 8.4: Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead.
- Target 8.5: By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value
SDG 10: Reduce income inequality within and among countries
- Target 10.1: By 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average
SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- Target 11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
- Target 11A: Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
- Target 12.1. Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production (10YFP), all countries taking action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries
- Target 12.3. By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses
- Target 12.4: By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment
SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
- Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
- Target 17.7: Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships