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Agro-econvert project: Agroecological transition and organic certification in Vietnam to Empower Rural communities

Client: Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Switzerland
Implementation agency: 
Center for Agricultural research & Ecological studies (CARES), Vietnam
Project leader: Dr. Christian Schader (FiBL) and Dr. Pham Van Hoi (CARES)

Organic vegetable farm in Vietnam
1. Background

There is widespread acceptance thatfood systems need to be viable and resilient, which includes the axiom that actors within the food chain, and the communities to which they belong, must be able to make a long-lasting living from their work and secure an adequate quality of life. However, this is often not achieved, especially for smallholders and family farmers in the developing world. Agroecological production, and organically certified production in particular, has been proposed as a means of maintaining viable and resilient livelihoods for smallholder farmers, while providing consumers with nutritious and safe products. Grovermann et al. (2017) found economic and environmental gains from a transition to organic farming in the context of Southeast Asia. Home et al. (2017) show that participatory guarantee system (PGS) initiatives overcome many of the barriers to organic certification by basing their activities on long lasting social processes and being well connected to consumers, markets, regulation bodies, governments, and the communities in which they operate. They combine tradition and bottom up collaboration within local level social structures and have been shown to contribute to farmer well-being and community empowerment in several national contexts, including South Africa, Lao PDR, Peru, and Brasil.

The local organic sector in Vietnam has continued to grow in recent years and an increasing number of smallholder farmers are becoming certified as organic producers: predominantly as part of PGS initiatives. Despite this growth, local consumers have increasingly demanding needs regarding the quality, traceability and safety of their food, while the organic market is insufficiently supplied by local production and the supply of safe agricultural products is still largely unstable and expensive.  Furthermore, organic exports from Vietnam, particularly to Europe, are seen as a potential rather than a reality. There might be several reasons that have led to this situation, but studies (e.g. Presilla, 2018) suggest that Vietnamese regional organic projects have been hampered by insufficient institutional cooperation and government support. These insights suggest that sector growth could be accelerated with appropriate allocation of resources but there is insufficient data available documenting the pathways towards sustainable development of the organic sector in Vietnam. Therefore, farmers and market actors lack the information they need to make decisions that could ease the future development of the sector while policy makers are hampered in the development of supportive, evidence-based organic policies.

2. The aims of this project

  • Analyse the economic resilience, governance, environmental integrity, the social well-being and technical constraints of conventional and organic smallholder farms in Vietnam (Module 1).
  • Explore the potential of organic agriculture to contribute to sustainable development of rural communities, the resilience of smallholder farms, and the health, food security and empowerment of smallholder farmers (Module 1).
  • Analyse the institutional support environment for organic agriculture and explore systemic reasons that enable or hinder farmers in Vietnam to take/and or stop to take ecological measures to transform their farms towards more sustainable, including organics (Module 2).
  • Determine differences, in terms of economic, social, food safety, and environmental outcomes, between conventional producers and those who have been certified in participatory processes (Module 3).
  • Leverage results through policy engagement and dissemination to realise the potential for supporting farmers to produce organic based on agroecological principles, leading expansion of the domestic organic sector in Vietnam and possible increased access to European (and particularly Swiss) export markets (Module 4).

3. Methodology

  • Module 1: Empowerment of smallholder farmers in Vietnam through organic farming
  • Module 2: System level factors to promote upscaling
  • Module 3: Impacts of organic certification among smallholder farms
  • Module 4: Synthesis, Learning and Dissemination

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