This article first appeared in ABC News.
Women and ethnic minorities in north-western Vietnam are improving their farming practices and boosting their incomes thanks to an Australian aid project.
A $2.3 million Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project is addressing the need to reduce poverty and improve nutrition there through boosting vegetable production.
Vàng Thị Hường is a mother of three children and she farms in the Nah Keo commune high in the mountains of Vietnam’s Bac Ha district.
Rice is the staple crop in the region but her cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflowers and native leafy vegetables, such as cai meo, are increasingly important to her income.
“Most of them have the same prices so in terms of economics it’s the same with every variety but to her the most important crop is cabbage because she still can sell the cabbage and she can utilise the old leaf of the cabbage to feed the animals,” Ms Vàng said through a translator.
The cool climate of Lao Cai province means the region is only able to produce one rice crop a year.
But the temperate weather presents an opportunity for the small landholders to produce vegetables at a different time of the year to the higher producing, more developed regions in Vietnam such as the Red River Delta, around Hanoi.
Growing counter-season vegetables
ACIAR has funded the project for the past four years.
There have been four components looking at everything from agronomic and farm management projects improvements to boosting supply chains and providing more market information to the farmers.
For farmer Lù Thị Cọt by learning more about growing the crops and fertilising them her income has doubled because she is now producing bigger and better quality cabbages.
The teachers encouraged them to sell off-season vegetables with higher margins so next year she wants to have vegetables to sell into May.
A key part of the project was improving soil nutrition and finding ways to manage problems such as the destructive club root pathogen that can sometimes destroy entire crops of cabbages.
Dr Tran Minh Tien is the deputy director of the Soils and Fertilisers Research Institute in Hanoi.
He headed up the component of the project that looked at nutrition management and plant protection and helped provide technical support for farmers in the field.
“You know that in this area the women are responsible for the cultivation in the field and in our training the main participants are women,” Dr Tran said.
“We were impressed because they learned how to face the issues in the future and they linked together to help each other.”
The Lao Cai province of Vietnam is famous for its emerald green terraces etched into the side of mountains, but it is still one of the poorest regions in the country.
Keeping these staple crops healthy is particularly important in the Lao Cai province because about 40 per cent of people there live below the poverty line, and that number is even greater in the ethnic minority communities.
Centre for Global Food and Resources at the University of Adelaide research associate Nikki Dumbrell said by improving the way vegetables were grown and sold helped ensure food security for these people, with a particular focus on women.
“Women are typically the people who are spending the time in the field weeding the vegetables, and tending to the vegetables, harvesting the vegetables and then taking them to the local market to sell,” Ms Dumbrell said.
“When you go to the market nearly everyone selling vegetables is female so we’re really looking at working with these ethnic minority communities and the women in these communities to improve their farming systems.”
To do this the researchers paired up with the Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU) which has 15 million members.
The VWU is responsible for protecting the rights of women, building women’s capacity and working towards gender equality.
Hien Nguyen is a Vietnamese Women’s Union officer and she was a coordinator of the project before she received a John Allright Fellowship from ACIAR to study for her Master’s degree in women’s studies at Flinders University in Adelaide.
She has seen firsthand how the project is helping women in Vietnam.
“Participating in the project women have more chance to engage to the wider community, they become more confident,” Ms Nguyen said.
“I see them very active in all kinds of group discussion, such as developing production and business plans or discussing the technical constraints to the production and discussing the solution with the project expert.”
The H’mong people are an ethnic minority group known for being quite conservative with the men taking the lead in almost all activities.