By Dr Van Kien Nguyen, project lead at Research Center for Rural Development, An Giang University, Vietnam National University
The Living Deltas Research Hub is funded for five years (2019-2024) and operates across four delta systems – Red River, Mekong deltas in Vietnam; the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna system in Bangladesh and India. We call these ‘social-ecological systems.
A team of over 120 members from 20+ academic institutions, including 50 postdoc research associates, and 10 international PhD studentships. with six working packages.
Research Center for Rural Development (RCRD) of An Giang University is one leading member in the Mekong Delta. Four senior researchers from RCRD and 7 research assistants joined this research project in three major working packages: 1, 2, and 4.
Organic agriculture and food system sub-working package 2 is one of the core tasks of the RCRD team. Mekong Organics is the technical advisor for the sub-package who facilitates stakeholder engagement, linking farmers to the private firms to buy organic rice, and partnering with NGO (Asia Organic Agriculture Research Institute_IOA), farmer cooperative (Vinh Loi Rice Cooperative) in Thanh Tri District of Soc Trang province and Soc Trang DARD leaders to pilot the organic agriculture model in 23 rice farmers with 30 hectares of rice paddies in the winter crop 2021-2022.
Due to the covid-19 pandemic disruption, it took a year for the research team and partners (AOI) to evaluate and select the potential farmer group and community as well as the regulation of the authorities. It was evident that some farmer groups meet the biophysical criteria (soils and water are suitable to grow organic rice), but lack leadership capacity and community leaders to promote this initiative. Some communities have strong governmental support by legal advice and land use regulation, but the soils and water are vulnerable to pesticide contamination from the neighbouring conventional farms. Consequently, it took a long process with many zoom meetings among the project team (RCRD), experts (Mekong Organics), and consultants (IAO) to review and sit down for making a milestone.
Finally, we actually co-found the site which satisfies both biophysical, social, and cultural knowledge that enable collaboration and facilitation of the organic rice system which aims to offer a better life for smallholder farmers in the Mekong Delta, a very vulnerable region to the impacts of climate change.
With the commitment of local NGOs partners (AOI), local and provincial government (Soc Trang DARD), Thanh Tri People Committee, and Sub-DARD, the private firm (Hong Tan), and the rice cooperative (Vinh Loi Cooperative), and their farmer members, we expect the outcomes of the project will change the farming system practices, improve wellbeing for smallholder farmers, and building trust among researchers, NGOs, government, private sector and farmers to develop a sustainable organic agriculture food system in the Lower Mekong Region.
The initial outcome of the Living Delta Hub/Food System Sub-WP2 has changed the behaviour of the farmers in the cooperative who are actively participating in the training course in “organic food production, certification, and trade” by Mekong Organics, funded by DFAT, AVEG pilot program. Mr Ut, the Director of Vinh Loi Cooperative is an active participant in the course. Course link is https://mekongorganics.com/training-in-organic-food-production-certification-and-trade-forum/
The outcomes and outputs of the sub-WP2 will be promoted through the Mekong Organics Platform, a free, not for profit activity, that aims to connect Vietnamese organic farmers to the global consumers to build the local sustainable food system.
Your stories will be updated during and after the project ends!
On 25 Nov 2021, our research team hosted a kick-off meeting to make a milestone for the organic agriculture and food system progress. Our research team (8 members) hosted a stakeholder workshop with the representation of the consultant team (AOI), provincial and district local authorities of DARD and Sub-DARD, a private firm (Hong Tan Company), and Vinh Loi Agriculture Cooperative via zoom. We agreed on three things: 1/ sign an MoU of stakeholders’ roles and tasks in the project. The MoU set up the roles, and activities of each party (DRAD, Sub-DRAD), Hong Tan Company (the buyer of organic rice), AOI (the international organic certification consultation (USDA/EU)), and the Vinh Loi Agriculture Cooperative. 2/ We agreed on the timeline and reporting tasks for each partner. The notable achievement is to involve DARD and Sub-DARD staff in the project who are active in the co-design processes, sharing ideas to develop a project in a sustainable way.
A quote from Mr Nha, deputy Director of Sub-DARD (Thanh Tri) said that “the project is very important to support the district to move toward organic food production, so we must go through each step carefully to comply with the organic standards, he advised the Director of Vinh Loi cooperative during the meeting”.
Mrs Hang, Director of Hong Tan Company said she committed to join in this initiative to develop sustainable organic rice production. The company may compensate for the losses of yields to a natural disaster.
Mr Vo Thien Tanh, a local organic rice advisor, has a long-lasting experience in supporting farmers. He will be in touch with farmers to provide adequate training for preparing organic input and practice of organic rice for the project.
Dr Kien, the project lead, concluded we should do the best effort during the covid-19 pandemic restriction. The outcomes will be paid off for our effort to support the community.
The first bi-monthly meeting of the project team was held on 15 Feb 2022 with the participation of the project lead (Dr Andy Large), Project Manager Libby Wood, co-lead A/Prof Indrajit Pal from AIT, and researchers from the Red River Delta & Mekong River Delta.
At the beginning of the meeting, a short video clip about organic rice farming and household survey activities is showed. Dr Kien presented the key milestones of organic rice farming and trade model where the project team partners with private firms, traders, farmers, cooperatives, and local government officials using a co-designed and participatory action research (PAR), with the active participation of young, female researchers and students. The project aims to build capacity for local government staffs and farm cooperatives to develop organic agriculture policies and trade with the private firms. Consequently, the MoU was signed in November 2021 between the RCRD team (Living Deltas Hub), with AOI, Hong Tan Company, Vinh Loi Cooperative, and Soc Trang DARD. The first organic rice crop was implemented (sowed) in November 2021, which will be harvested in mid March 2022. The presentation was attracted questions from the project leader, co-lead and C-Is, Questions are about yield of organic rice, profitability, risk in water and soil quality control in the irrigated system in the Mekong Delta as well as the quality of rice variety, and food security. These questions are responded nicely and convincingly by Dr Kien,
Followed by Mr Nguyen Van Thai, who co-led the household survey shared the progress of questionnaires design, training of interviewers, sampling, testing the questionnaires, challenges and opportunity. We have learnt that students from different disciplinaries can help to collect a high quality data from the multiple disciplinary questionnaire. The household survey is in progress to pilot data collection and input in An Giang, which will be undertaken in Ca Mau and Vinh Long provinces in late March 2022. Our research team also developed an platform in Zalo that encourages the student interviewers to give a reflection of their interviewing story in each day of interview, with photos and video. These resources will be used for reporting and publication of the research in the future.
You should visit the short clip of our progress!