Exploring Vietnam’s agricultural landscape: empowering smallholder farmers

May 1, 2023
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Recently, partnership developers Willem Moraal and Tracy Wilson visited Vietnam as a result of the Vietnam Sustainable Horticulture program. The purpose of the trip was to meet the partners and exchange information about the program. Tracy takes you along on their journey.

Lowland AgTech development

‘Our visit started in the highlands of Dalat, where we visited our partner Orlar’s farm. We were able to see their developing technique, experience the process from nursery to vertical farming, and learn more about the current trials they are running.

Together with Rijk Zwaan we went to FreshStudio’s demonstration farm, and to 5 smallholder farmers who are in different phases of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). These visits provided us with the opportunity to better understand the current situation of the soil, and the opportunities and challenges the local growers experience.

We further explored the supply chain of both Orlar and the smallholder farmer, to better capture the farm-to-fork process. This included visits to 3 different supermarkets and two restaurants that are off-takers of Orlar´s produce.

Knowledge-to-knowledge partnerships

After we visited Dalat, we went on a road trip to Tra Vinh in the Mekong Delta. There, we had a discussion with Tra Vinh University, representatives from the Vietnam Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Cooperative Alliance, and Orlar. We discussed collaboration between the Dutch and Vietnamese government, knowledge institutions, cooperatives, and businesses. Engaging with smallholder farmers led to a better understanding of the supply chain, how they are organized, their bottlenecks, and their future CEA investment plans.

We learned that young Vietnamese returning from the diaspora have a great interest in CEA. In addition, the university is actively seeking cooperation with industry by conducting research and making internships part of the curriculum.

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Supply chain development

Currently, Orlar’s products are brought to Ho Chi Minh City by truck. There they are processed and then delivered to supermarkets for subsequent delivery to end users. In the future, Orlar plans to look into the possibility of having the processing take place in Dalat.  

When we look at local farmers, we see that they produce for a trader who sells the products in neighboring countries and locally to supermarket chains. In reality, traders are individuals with the right resources who collect produce from 10 to 20 farmers and then resell it. While the farmers earn 2ct per kg (for baby cucumbers), the trader sells it for 2$ per kg. Certain traders now have a shift in focus and are also investing more in the farmers by buying Rijk Zwaan seeds, giving access to Rijk Zwaan’s extension services to ensure safe, quality, and healthy produce.

Because of this, supermarkets prefer to do business with an intermediary rather than directly with small farmers. However, the strict requirements for ´perfectly´ sized and good-looking produce results in a high number of food waste. Some farmers have now turned to offering fruit and vegetables collectively under one brand. Produce that is rejected (not good enough for the supermarket) is sold by the growers at the local wet market, in front of their house, is used as animal feed, or given away to neighbors.

Follow up

Visiting the Orlar farm, Fresh Studio’s demonstration farm, and local growers in different phases of CEA enabled them to identify market opportunities for the Dutch horticulture sector. Additionally, these insights are being used to further develop the building blocks for the Vietnam Sustainable Horticulture together with the stakeholders.