Rice Programme – Rikolto in Vietnam – To understand better about Value Proposition

Rice Programme – Rikolto in Vietnam – To understand better about Value Proposition

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Vietnam is a country with exceptional comparative advantages in rice production. At present, the rice sector plays an important role in social and economic development, and rice lands account for 82% of Vietnam’s arable land, according to IRRI (International Rice Research Institute). About 52% of Vietnam’s rice is produced in the Mekong River Delta and another 18% in the Red River Delta where plots are usually very small. While rice plots should ideally cover 2-3ha, the average cultivation plot of the Vietnamese rice farmers is about one acre (0.5 ha).

Over 15 million smallholder farmers derive their livelihoods from rice in the Red River and Mekong deltas but the number of smallholders who can make a living from rice is declining. According to Oxfam, in An Giang province, in the Mekong delta, an average family only earns 100USD a month from cultivating rice, about a fifth of what coffee-growers earn in Vietnam’s Central Highlands (The Economist, 2014).

There is continuous change in the rice markets, due to competition from emerging rice producing countries, plus increasing demand for high quality rice from both domestic and international consumers. There come also changes in rice farming communities including the replacement of small rice cultivation areas with aquaculture models, or shifting of labour from rice farming in Red River delta to another job sector. Young people also do not see rice farming as a possible career, and they tend to move to work in the cities. This poses a threat to the rice farming population in upcoming years. Another factor that is causing hazards to rice farming is climate change. With unexpected floods, or scarcity of water, climate change leads to less productive crops or crop losses. The abandonment of the policy which used to force companies to buy rice directly from farmers, plus efforts from private millers to expand their scale and to enter into contracts with famers, has required more help in terms of building of multi-stakeholder partnership between different actors in the rice value chain.

To address all the above-mentioned problems, Rikolto and its 5-year rice programme has targeted on mainstreaming inclusive business models for sustainable rice across the Vietnamese rice subsector from 2017 to 2021. To understand better how the rice programme with its strategy is aiming to help the rice farming in Vietnam currently, We carry out a brief in-house interview with Dr. Minh Thi Thai – our Regional Director, as well as Rice programme coordinator for Rikolto in Vietnam – about the meaning behind Rikolto Rice Value proposition.

Question: What is the reason that we apply *Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) Standards in our programme?

Dr. Minh – Answer: SRP is one of our intervention strategies. Almost every region in our rice programme has SRP pilot. And with this, we are supporting our rice cluster’s global impact.

Q: Why is there a need to develop an SRP brand for domestic market?

A: First, it links to food safety management. Consumers’ demand for high-quality rice is increasing. Meanwhile, the reputation for rice quality within domestic market isn’t high due to overuse of inputs and pesticides, this leads to high chemical residues in Vietnamese rice. So developing an SRP brand for domestic market will increase accessibility to safe food for consumers. Second, with SRP rice, income for farmers will increase; they can have better long-term relationship with companies that source high-quality rice through signing contracts. Third, with SRP rice production, we aim to reduce greenhouse gas emission, thus reducing climate change impact due to growing rice. And last, SRP production can bring more participation from young people and women into the rice value chain through innovative techniques to grow rice.

Q: You mention about young people, so why should youth be included in the rice value chain?

A: There are two reasons for that. First, farmers, especially rice farmers are aging. There are more old farmers in the field but in most cases we rarely see young people involved. So in order to have sustainable rice production, we need to see more participation from the young people in rice sector in the future. Youth inclusion should be strengthened. Second, for the young people who are already involved in the rice value chain now, are turning old already, so it can be considered that they soon become excluded in the count of youth, what’s more important is that the seniority in the rice chain is quite strong, so young farmers’ voice is often ignored, and a lot of opportunities are not given to them.

Q: Why and how is Rikolto adopting climate change tackling methods into rice production?

A: The reason why, is because rice sector in the Mekong delta region is victim of climate change. Meanwhile, rice farming is also one of the factors that contribute to climate change. Those are the two reasons why we need to adopt climate change methods in rice production. And how to address the problems, promoting SRP is also one way to deal with climate change. As a package, SRP can help to reduce water use, leading to better water management – this is a factor contributing to climate change. And in some projects, we are adopting climate-smart rice techniques in rice production such as Alternative Wetting and Drying, Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System, and Modeling of Biochar Production that turns rice straw into biochar instead of burning, by this way it is proved to reduce carbon footprint in rice production.

Q: What is the role of *Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) in sustainable rice production?

A: We have just recently adopted PGS in our rice value chain. In theory, PGS is a tool to have farmers’ commitment to SRP standards in rice production. It creates trust within the farmers themselves, help them to gain ownership of their own products through the cross-check activities which are carried out by themselves right in the field. With this, we aim to create a better understanding within farmers about their own SRP application and for them to be more proud of their high-quality rice. PGS is also a better alternative to traditional certification methods such as VietGap or BASicGap. It costs less in terms of certifying the agricultural products, thus reducing the production costs for farmers.

Q: And the last question, how is the Business Development Package (BD Pack) useful for farmers?

A: For farmers, BD Pack mainly focuses on farmer organizations (FOs) whose work is benefiting individual farmers as the members of that particular FO. With BD Pack, we help train FOs to better manage their business. And they play the role as service providers to the members, and to establish business relationship with the partners. That is the first factor. More than that, we also build their collective production capacity, and we do it through different kinds of interventions including training, facilitating their relationship with rice companies, etc. And the outcome we would like to see is, when they have better collective production planning, and better business management, they will have more power. And individual farmers will benefit from selling their rice through FOs, reducing the transaction costs. And there is opportunity for increasing the price when they sell it in bigger volume to the companies. And they can also build stronger connection with the buyers through bypass collector system. All of this helps to increase their income. Furthermore, FOs can also provide other services related to inputs – fertilizers, seeds, water, etc. and often, they provide those services at a lower cost to their members. So with that taken into account, we see that is the way how individual farmers can benefit from this BD Pack.

Q: Thank you for your sharing about Rikolto Rice Value Proposition.

*SRP: The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) is a multi-stakeholder platform established in December 2011. The SRP is co-convened by UN Environment and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to promote resource efficiency and sustainability in trade flows, production and consumption operations, and supply chains in the global rice sector.( Source: http://www.sustainablerice.org)

*PGS: The Vietnam PGS was developed under the ADDA – VNFU (Agriculture Development Denmark Asia(link is external) – VietNam Farmer’s Union(link is external)) Organic Agriculture Project in 2008 and 2009. It involves producer groups, consumers, supporting organizations (NGOs) as well as organic traders (companies). Producer members of the PGS are organized in producer groups responsible for the organization of regular peer review (inspections) of the members of the group. Several producer groups are gathered in inter-groups, which are responsible for making the certification decisions. Inter-groups are composed of representatives of the producer groups as well as consumers, traders, local officials, farmer-trainers or NGO staff working in the Inter-Group area. All inter-groups are represented by an overall committee called the PGS coordination group, which maintains the PGS standard and procedures, manages the PGS seal, issues certificates and organizes general promotion of the PGS towards the public. ( Source: https://www.ifoam.bio)