Blog prepared by Nikki Dumbrell.
Researchers at the Centre for Global Food and Resources (GFAR) are involved in a multidisciplinary research-for-development project improving the profitability and sustainability of smallholder vegetable farms in the north-west (NW) of Vietnam. Some of the results and impacts from the project have been captured in a short film. For additional context about the project and the impacts highlighted in the film, we describe some of the project background below.
The NW of Vietnam hosts some of the poorest provinces in the country. For example, in 2014 more than 25% of the population of Lao Cai Province was classified as living in poverty . This was substantially higher than the estimated national poverty rate of 8.4% . In addition to poverty, these communities also struggle with chronic malnutrition. For example, in Lao Cai Province 40% of children under five years of age suffer from stunting with a further 26% classed as underweight . The NW of Vietnam is also home to a number of ethnic minority communities; in particular there are significant populations of H’mong, Tay, Nung, Dao Nung and Thai ethnic groups in the NW highland region  . Engaging with these communities to reduce the incidence of poverty and improve their livelihoods is a key focus area of the Vietnam Government and partner organisations.
Subsistence agriculture is critical to the livelihoods of most rural households in NW Vietnam, especially ethnic minority households. Adjustments to farm enterprises to increase farm-household incomes (including from off-farm income) or, to reduce income vulnerability have long been advocated as options to alleviate poverty. One adjustment option is to move resources from low value agriculture (or subsistence agriculture) to high value agriculture, such as horticulture  . Horticulture can offer opportunities to reduce poverty rates by providing households with higher cash incomes  relative to a subsistence agricultural system that is often focussed on the production of staple crops such as rice and maize. However, it is important to note here that this is only effective in increasing cash incomes and alleviating poverty if farmers can secure market access.
The NW of Vietnam exhibits favourable climate and soil conditions for vegetable production  and consequently, there could be opportunities to integrate vegetable production in the existing, largely subsistence or semi-subsistence, farming systems in the region. However, development of the vegetable sector by increasing the involvement of smallholder, semi-subsistence farmers in the industry and engagement with markets in NW Vietnam faces a number of challenges. These challenges include: (1) rapidly transforming markets including the types of markets and the demands of consumers; (2) poor competitiveness with peri-urban and regional producers; (3) poor infrastructure and logistics; and (4) nutrient depleted soils and erosion. Maximising the profitability of vegetable farming systems, whilst sustainably managing soil, water and nutrient resources is a challenge, particularly given the need to intensify production to maximise returns to smallholder farmers from very small parcels of land.
Market access is an additional challenge. Market access is increasingly contingent on meeting consumer demands for safe, high quality and nutritious vegetables  . Furthermore, the quantity and quality (consistency) standards imposed by the growing modern retail sector, e.g. supermarkets and specialty stores are strict .
Advances in smallholder vegetable farming systems in the NW of Vietnam required multidisciplinary research to explore options to overcome challenges or barriers to adopting different farm management practices and market engagement. Following the challenges outlined in the previous paragraph, there was a need for market research and the identification of pro-poor marketing models appropriate for farmers shifting from subsistence agriculture to market-oriented vegetable farming systems. In addition, there was a need for biophysical farming systems research to create an evidence base for management recommendations for vegetables systems, in particular pest and disease management and nutrition management. Consideration of historical land uses (traditional farming systems) and farmers’ knowledge and constraints was necessary to deliver appropriate market development models and crop management recommendations. The project was designed to address these knowledge gaps and work with farmers using participatory action research to design production and marketing research specific to their major constraints.
Learn more about the project: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/global-food/research/international-development/vietnam-vegetables
The project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
 Vietnam General Statistics Office (2015) Result of the Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey 2015. Statistical Publishing House, Hanoi, Vietnam. Available from: http://www.gso.gov.vn/default_en.aspx?tabid=783
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