Rikolto and Rainforest Alliance partner up for the sustainable management of tea landscapes in Vietnam
Rikolto and Rainforest Alliance partner up for the sustainable management of tea landscapes in Vietnam
In December 2015, Rikolto in Vietnam took on the role of national coordinator for the project “Mainstreaming Sustainable Management of Tea Production Landscapes” in Vietnam. As the implementing partner, Rikolto is in charge of planning and implementing all project activities in the country. The project, mainly funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), aims to reduce land degradation associated with tea production in Asia which will be done by supporting farmers in adopting sustainable land management and integrated natural resource management practices.
Running until February 2018, the Vietnam chapter of the project will also work to catalyse the tea industry and government leaders to mainstream these practices in their business operations and policies. The project covers five major tea landscapes in Asia: Darjeeling (India), Assam (India), Sri Lanka, Yunnan (China) and Vietnam.
A shared aim towards the sustainability of the agricultural sector
Rainforest Alliance is a global non-governmental organisation working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods. Created in 1987, its aim is to transform land-use practices, business practices and consumer behaviour so that people and planet can prosper together. The organisation is mostly known for its Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, an internationally recognised symbol of environmental, social and economic sustainability, widely identified by its green frog symbol. 
This project is not the first collaboration between Rikolto Vietnam and Rainforest Alliance. Between 2013 and 2015, Rikolto had already been contracted by Rainforest Alliance to prepare tea companies, factories and producers for Rainforest Alliance certification, thanks to IDH, Rainforest Alliance and Unilever’s financial support. As such, Rikolto set up Farmer Field Schools on Good Agricultural Practices, trained 395 lead-farmers on the Sustainable Agriculture Network’s (SAN) guidelines, and helped 17 factories implement the Internal Management System (IMS) in preparation for their certification.
Mainstreaming sustainable land management in tea landscapes
This project is adopting a landscape approach to the problem of land degradation. As underlined by UNEP, this new paradigm for development “acknowledges the inherent interconnectedness of human and natural systems and the resources that underpin them.”  In this approach, interventions are place-based, rather than sector-based. They adopt a holistic perspective where socioeconomic and geographical strategies are mixed, with the objective of achieving social, economic and environmental objectives in areas where agricultural production competes with environmental goals. The landscape approach basically recognises that landscapes are multifunctional, meeting a wide range of needs such as water provision, air purification, pollination services, crop production for food and industry – the list goes on – and that all these elements must be managed in an integrated way.
In landscapes where tea production is a major economic activity, adopting a landscape approach implies the sustainable intensification of tea cultivation in order to bolster income for farmers, while at the same time protecting and enhancing the natural environment. This requires adopting tea production practices that preserve the local natural capital while at the same time increasing productivity and maintaining tea quality standards. In the long run, the sustainable management of these tea landscapes is expected to improve both human well-being and the health of natural ecosystems.
Rikolto's work is to strengthen Rainforest Alliance’s programme in Vietnam and to facilitate the uptake of sustainable land management in the tea industry in the five provinces targeted by the project: Yen Bai, Lai Chau and Thai Nguyen. In order to enhance sustainable land management practices and to mainstream them in tea-growing landscapes, Rikolto will work at two levels.
First, it will work with tea companies and producer organisations to encourage the adoption of sustainable land management techniques such as mulching, compost, shade trees planting, cover crops, and tea field design. More specifically, Rikolto will prepare a training curriculum and conduct training activities, organise extension events, and coach technical staff and lead farmers. Sustainable land management trainings will target estate managers, company technicians, partner NGOs and service providers who will in turn train smallholder farmers with the aim of helping them to apply better production practices.
Replication of good practices by farmer groups that are currently outside the project would be an incredible success
Second, Rikolto will share successful examples and results with the government and decision-makers in the tea industry, to support the large-scale adoption of sustainable land management practices at the tea landscape level. This phase will take place in 2017 and will involve the publication of case studies and the organisation of various events with decision-makers.
The potential benefits from applying these improved production practices for smallholder farmers are high. Current tea production in Vietnam is characterised by the intensive use of agricultural chemicals, lack of investment in production capacity, the low quality of tea leaves, and poor linkage between producers and tea factories. Thanks to GEF, Rainforest Alliance and Rikolto's interventions, the sustainability and quality of farmers’ tea production will increase, which is in turn expected to enable farmers to sell tea at a better price for export markets.
There is a lot of enthusiasm from tea factories to participate in the project as they are very much aware of the potential financial benefits of improved tea production and quality. Rikolto's hope is that by the end of the project, the successful implementation of a sustainable land management approach will have inspired others to change their practices. As Hoang Thanh Hai, the project’s national coordinator from Rikolto puts it: “Replication of good practices by farmer groups that are currently outside the project would be an incredible success.”
Video - Greening Vietnam's tea industry
Since 2016, tea farmers like Ms. Thanh have been trained on sustainable farming practices enabling them to produce higher quality tea leaves while using fewer chemicals. “Before the project, I saw that the land was eroded, the plants were small, producing a small yield of low-quality tea. I cover the soil with straw to lock in the moisture so that my plants will be healthier and produce better yields of more high-quality tea buds” Learn more about our collaboration with UN Environment, Rainforest Alliance and the Global Environment Facility on greening Vietnam’s tea industry in the video below.
The subgrant amount for the implementation of the project in Vietnam is USD 119,200.
The project is funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through the Global Environment Facility. Rikolto acts as Rainforest Alliance's implementing partner and national coordinator for the Vietnamese chapter of the project.
3,182 tea farmers have been trained on sustainable land management practices
A pool of 23 trainers from government extension services, tea factories and farmers has been constitued
Key results and lessons learned: sustainable production leads to higher income for farmers
The project’s evaluation has shown that the adoption of sustainable land management practices has led to a reduction in the amount of chemicals applied and in an increase in the quality of fresh tea leaves, leading to higher prices. This resulted in an average increase of income of 30% for farmers in Lai Chau, Yen Bai and Thai Nguyen provinces.
Some challenges prevent the more widespread adoption of the project’s good practices such as the lack of available labour while the recommended practices are labour-intensive, the short-term thinking of some farmers who prefer using herbicides over natural methods, the lack of provincial policies to support improvements in tea landscapes, the difficulty of applying compost on very steep land, and the fact that old habits die hard.
Nevertheless, some key factors contributed to making this projects an overall success:
- The use of practices compiled mostly from local knowledge ensured the suitability of the practices to farmers’ local context;
- The selected practices were not difficult to apply from a technical standpoint. Although labour intensive, they are low-cost and easy to adopt.
- The existing trade relationship between the project’s 3 partner tea companies and the farmers, as well as companies’ commitment to the project, made it easy to engage farmers and maintain their motivation;
- The involvement of stakeholders (government, tea companies, and farmers) from the planning phase of the project and respect for farmers’ local knowledge facilitated their commitment and buy-in;
- Farmers’ knowledge of markets’ demand for better quality tea made them more aware of the need to change their practices to meet that demand.
The project was also beneficial for tea companies who could secure higher quality tea for their markets in Europe, China, Taiwan, and Russia, among others.
In addition to encouraging the adoption of sustainable land management practices by farmers, the project also advocated national and provincial governments to integrate those practices in their policies and decision-making. For that purpose, on 26 and 27 December 2017, Rikolto organised a workshop to share experiences and plan for the expansion of sustainable land management practices. Organised in Lai Chau province, the event brought together representatives from Vietnam Tea Association (VITAS), Rainforest Alliance, the Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development of Thai Nguyen and Lai Chau provinces, and tea companies. After a trip to farmers’ fields to learn about the project’s main achievements, participants planned for the replication of the practices in their province. In Thai Nguyen province, the government committed to providing 1 billion VND (approx. 44,000 USD) to the Crop Production and Plant Protection Sub-department for the upscaling of specific land conservation practices. A policy brief recommending the upscaling of these practices at the national level was also presented to Vietnam’s Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF)
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems. Since then, the GEF has provided over $17 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $88 billion in financing for more than 4000 projects in 170 countries. Today, the GEF is an international partnership of 183 countries, international institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector that addresses global environmental issues.
The Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance is a growing network of farmers, foresters, communities, scientists, governments, environmentalists, and businesses dedicated to conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods. We are an international non-profit organization working to build strong forests, healthy agricultural landscapes, and thriving communities through creative, pragmatic collaboration.