How growing high-quality vegetables increased farmers’ income by 150%

An Australian-funded project with the support of Fresh Studio is helping farmers in Vietnam increase their income by supplying high-quality, certified-safe vegetables to retail stores and urban consumers in Hanoi.

Using a value chain model developed as part of the ACIAR – AHR project team, farmers in the Moc Chau region of North Western Vietnam are now producing certified-safe vegetables for urban consumers in northern Vietnam. Through the project effective direct trading relationships and two-way communication between the farmers, the supermarkets and specialty safe vegetable stores in Hanoi have been established. Direct marketing to Hanoi represents a completely new approach and market for local farmers and it’s showing clear economic benefits. In 2015, 68 project farmers (71% female and 10% H’Mong) in the Moc Chau villages of Tu Nhien, Ta Niet and An Thai, produced about 800 tonnes of certified-safe vegetables on 22 hectares of land.

Participating farmers from the Tu Nhien village in Moc Chau earned an average net income of 300 million VND ($18,000) per ha in 2015. This compares with an average net household income of 120 million VND ($7,560) per ha for non-project vegetable farmers in the village, which is an increase of 150% in net income.

The leader of 38 farmers in the Tu Nhien village, Ms Luyen said:
Farmers who are working in the new value chain are no longer poor, they do not have to borrow money to grow their next crop. Many of the farmers have been able to improve their houses, and can more easily afford to send their children to school”.

Ms Luyen from Tu Nhien village and Ms Vu Thi Phuong Thanh from Fresh Studio are justifiably proud of the premium strawberries now grown in Tu Nhien village.

In the neighbouring project village of Van Ho, H’Mong farmers have been producing vegetables for only one season, yet they have already recorded a net income from vegetables of 116 million VND ($7,300) per ha per year, an increase of 480% over the 20 million VND per ha they can earn from rice. Alternative land uses such as growing maize or rice return a net income to the farmer of about 20 million VND ($1260) per ha per year, only 7% of the income they could make from accredited-safe vegetables.

Ms Luyen has been able to buy two trucks for sending high-quality vegetables from Moc Chau to Hanoi in good condition. She has also built a covered packing area and a separate crop receival area where local farmers can bring their produce for grading and packing before it is sent to retailers such as FiviMart, Metro and Biggreen in Hanoi, on the night it arrives.

Ms Luyen, leader of the Tu Nhien village supplying high-quality vegetables from Moc Chau to Hanoi tends a crop of tomatoes in her new greenhouse.
Project team members Ms Hang and Dr Pham Thi Sen from the Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (NOMAFSI), and Ms Nguyen Thị Sau from the Fruits and Vegetables Research Institute (FAVRI).
Mr Bùi Văn Tùng and Ms Nguyễn Thị Quỳnh Chang from the Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (NOMAFSI) inspecting a cabbage crop in Van Ho.
Mrs Luyen, leader of the Tu Nhien village with one the trucks she bought to transport vegetables from Moc Chau to Hanoi.


PhD defense: Food safety concerns and shopping for daily vegetables in modernizing Vietnam

PhD candidateSCO (Sigrid) Wertheim-Heck G (Gert) Spaargaren 
Co-promoter SR (Sietze) Vellema 
Wageningen UR, Environmental Policy, Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)
DateFriday 20 November 2015
Time13:30 to 15:00
VenueAuditorium, building number 362
Generaal Foulkesweg 1 362
6703 BG Wageningen
0317 – 483592

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Food safety concerns do not drive Vietnamese consumers towards supermarkets yet

Vietnam is one of the world’s largest growth economies. To meet the growing demand for fresh vegetables at declining farmland acreage cultivation methods have intensified with an increase in the often inappropriate application of agricultural inputs. Food safety scandals are widely covered by the public media and 95% of the consumers is heavily perturbed by the safety of the vegetables they consume on a daily basis.

To improve food safety and to restore trust among consumers, authorities in Vietnam stimulate the development of western style supermarkets while reducing traditional (street-) market vending. The government expects supermarkets, which maintain strict food safety management systems and food hygiene standards, to provide a suitable alternative for the less controlled and unhygienic street- and market vending. Policies are designed to influence behavior based on the idea that food safety concerns drive consumers away from traditional markets towards supermarkets. However, only 2% off the vegetables is being purchased in supermarkets. The research reveals how supermarkets do not necessarily fit in the routine organization of the every day lives of different groups of consumers. Some consumers, living in local communities with strong social cohesion, take their time and purchase their vegetables while ‘walking and talking’ in their ‘own’ market. Other, more time constrained consumers, prefer ‘shopping without stopping’, purchasing their vegetables seated on their motorbike while keeping the engine running.

The research shows in what way the different daily shopping practices prevalent in Vietnam are embedded within the wider range of every day life activities and social interdependencies, and how these have evolved over time. Vietnamese consumers appear creative and skilled in coping with food safety risks. They importantly rely on their own practical know-how in discerning safe vegetables, while attaching less importance to anonymous and objective assurance systems and certificates known from supermarkets and controlled chains. This study shows that western models are not readily applicable within the Asian context and thus warns against making the much needed food safety policies dependent on a single, ideal-typical (supermarket) model.

Paper: Historical transitions in food shopping Hanoi, Vietnam

This paper offers a historical analysis of contemporary practices of shopping for vegetables in the highly dynamic context of urban Hanoi during the period from 1975 to 2014. Focusing on everyday shopping practices from a food safety perspective, we assess the extent to which the policy-enforced process of supermarketization has proven to be an engine of change in daily vegetable purchasing while improving food safety.

In depicting transitions in shopping practices, we combine a social practices approach with historical analysis. Providing a historical analysis of a broad and complex spectrum of everyday practices of purchasing fresh vegetables, we identify the key drivers of change. We discuss different modalities of shopping and demonstrate that no single retail modernization format can be said to exist. Rather than contrasting an idealized supermarket model with the traditional modalities of food shopping, we offer a varied, more diverse set of shopping practices that displays different strategies for coping with food safety issues. When discussed from a historical perspective, food practices are shown to be highly dynamic, being constantly reinvented and reconfigured by consumers who use their established skills, routines, and social networks to sometimes resist top-down enforced supermarketization while developing the coping strategies that best suit their local circumstances.

Download the full publication here

Sigrid Wertheim-Heck on ‘Pro-Poor Potato’ project in Vietnam

95% of Vietnam’s potatoes are grown in the Red River Delta, during the cool weather season when rice cannot be grown. Potato production is an excellent alternative to improve the local food security and increase the income of smallholder farmers. In the Central Highlands potatoes can be produced year-round. Therefore the Growing Out of Poverty with Potato project, managed by Fresh Studio, is located in exactly these areas.

In this FDOV-funded partnership Fresh Studio, PepsiCo, Agrico and Wageningen UR cooperate to establish more sustainable potato production systems in Vietnam. At the same time, the project aims to increase the consumer awareness about the nutritional value of potatoes. PPP Lab’s Marleen Brouwer interviewed Sigrid Wertheim-Heck (director Marketing and Business Development of Fresh Studio) about this inspiring partnership.

What are you currently working on in the project?

At this moment we are working on both the supply side as well as the demand side of potato sector development. On the supply side, the farmers are being introduced to new quality seed potatoes, combined with trainings on crop management and overall capacity development. We are also working on our hardware investment plan to introduce, among others, potato planting and harvesting machinery in the near future. Since most of the farmers in our project are women, we hope that the potato production work will become less labour-intensive and less time-consuming. Women have to combine household tasks with farming, and through machinery we aim to relieve some of the most arduous, physically strenuous farming tasks.

On the demand side, we are working on the adoption of new high quality Dutch potato varieties in the Vietnamese diet. The new high quality varieties aim to provide consumers with a better quality alternative to the current rather limited offer. However, varieties that might be a bit bigger, smoother or have a different colour are not automatically accepted. When we work with farmers we need to assist also the adoption of the distinct produce in the market. Since the demand for potatoes is higher than the supply, outcompeting other providers is not the case.

Lately we have done a baseline study, among 400 consumers in the north of Vietnam and 400 in the South, to learn more about today’s potato consumption and people’s knowledge about the nutritional value of potatoes. We repeated the study during the potato season to correct for potential seasonality bias. We see that consumers in the South have different preferences than in the North. In general potato is valued as a healthy product both in the South and in the North. Still there is an inherited association with potato as a “poor man’s food”. Our project tries to alter this perception by implementing awareness campaigns, both in urban and rural areas. We are even establishing taste labs, which is yet a quite unknown phenomenon in the agricultural sector of Vietnam.

What do you see as the biggest challenge within your project at this stage?

We have to work hard to make this PPP work and to implement all our planned activities, but actually we do not encounter any big issues. In my opinion, the project is doing really well. Important to add: we did not start from scratch when we received the subsidy. This is a major advantage. We are building upon potato research, which we previously conducted. Besides we already know the farmers, because our agronomy team works in the rural areas. Moreover, our relations with local governments and cooperatives are very good.

We have formally kicked off our activities in October 2014, and since then the implementation is progressing as expected. The farmers are enthusiastic about the project, and very willing to participate in the training and variety testing (which includes demonstration farms). Our aim is to include 70% female farmers, which seems feasible given the importance of women in potato production. This first season we have trained 500 farmers, the majority being women, of the totally targeted 2500 farmers.

In your opinion, what are the biggest pitfalls for PPPs in the FDOV subsidy framework?

Starting new projects in new project frameworks is always challenging. The start-up took a while, but it also aided a robust set-up and clear direction, which benefits the project in its operations and secures that ambitions can be met. Changes in personnel of RVO resulted in delays of communication and thus project progress, but currently this is running well. Another challenge is the physical distance between RVO in the Netherlands and the partnership in Vietnam. When developing projects over larger distances, it is sometimes hard to understand the specific local conditions. Lastly, the project has a duration of five years. Defining fixed outcomes, for example in terms of farmer income, might prove to have limited value over five years’ time. Many aspects may influence the outcomes, of which several might be external circumstances beyond control. We deem it important to keep a certain level of flexibility within projects to mitigate unforeseen circumstances, or be able to embrace unexpected beneficial conditions.

Are there subjects that you would like to discuss with other parties involved in PPPs?

All PPPs are run in another way, but I am curious to learn how other practitioners design and implement their projects. Cross-learning is crucial to make all PPPs better, and to improve the FDOV and FDW facilities for the sake of sustainable development. I would like to discuss with others how they do their research, how they train their farmers, but also how they manage their PPPs and how they do monitoring & evaluation. What works, what does not work, what can we do differently?

Is there anything that you would like to share with other PPP practitioners?

At Fresh Studio we have discovered that managing a FDOV PPP is a fulltime job. This is not just a project for on the side. It takes a lot of time and effort to do it right. Furthermore, PPPs have a proven value, but they are never a guarantee for success. It is always a means to get somewhere, and not a goal in itself. In our partnership we are committed to be innovative, and part of the innovation lies in interdisciplinary cooperation. It is important to keep on listening to each other, to truly learn from each other’s views and beliefs. We all come from different backgrounds; farmers, businessmen and researchers all have their own objectives. Therefore it is crucial to continuously manage expectations to make a PPP successful.

More information about the potato project can be found here.

Read the project profile including snapshot information about the partnership


Source: PPP Lab

Publication date: 2015

Developing the first safe, traceable and sustainable pork value chain of Vietnam

Vissan, De Heus and Fresh Studio have formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish the first safe, traceable and sustainable pork value chain in Vietnam. The Ceremony was held on the 15th of August at the Vissan premises in HCMC.

The partnership between Vissan, De Heus and Fresh Studio has opened a united direction in the development strategy of the parties with the aim to bring to Vietnam safe and traceable pork products.

Accordingly, the parties will maximize their capability to establish a safe supply chain from farms, slaughterhouse to finished products and distributing to the market, in accordance with the TRACEPIG standards.

The “TRACEPIG” set of standards has been developed to guideline all parties involved in the production chain to follow a standardized procedure to obtain a high quality and safe pork. This is to answer growing concern of consumers about food safety, workers conditions, animal welfare and environmental protection.

All products will be labeled with traceable origin and do not contain chemical residues or pathogenic microorganisms that exceed the legal limits. Uniquely, all involved parties must also comply with the Animal Welfare module during the process of farming, transporting and slaughtering. In addition, TRACEPIG also integrate compliance with the Ethical Trading Initiative standard principles to ensure a fair working environment for all employees along the chain.

The following flow chart defines the roles of each party: 

Vissan is one of the leading enterprises in the food industry with specialization and business focus on production of chilled and frozen meat products, as well as processed foods from meat. With company strategic orientation is to approach the market through food quality and safety, Vissan has been implementing the closed process system in production, and continues to improve the efficiency and superior product quality. In addition, Vissan also actively cooperates with business partners and mobilizes the social resources to focus on the supply chain from production to processing as well as distribution.

DHFS – Safe Pork is a joint venture between De Heus LLC and Fresh Studio Innovations Asia to cooperate in creating the first safe and traceable value chain pork products in Vietnam. De Heus has over 100 years of experience worldwide in animal feed production and animal husbandry management. Meanwhile, Fresh Studio has possessed an insight and extensive experience in the fields of sourcing, market research and business development, and management and promotion of safe food products.

This signing event between Vissan and DHFS is the milestone for sustainable long-term cooperation between the three companies, in accordance with the Dutch – Vietnam subsidy cooperation program for farming, and it will contribute to the development of the food industry in particular and Vietnam agriculture in general.

Food safety and urban food markets in Vietnam: The need for flexible and customized retail modernization policies

What are the effects of supermarketization on consumers in urban areas in Vietnam: who benefits, who is excluded, and what are the consequences? The publication by Sigrid Wertheim-Heck, Sietze Vellema and Gert Spaargaren covers these queries. The paper is a contribution to the development of more inclusive retail modernization policies.

Access to safe and healthy food is a crucial element of food security. In Vietnam the safety of daily vegetables is of great concern to both consumers and policymakers. To mitigate food safety risks, the Vietnamese government enforces rules and regulations and relies strongly on a single approach for organizing food provision; being modernizing retail by replacing wet markets with supermarkets. In general, reorganizing food provision in this way is increasingly considered to be a guarantee for food safety, especially in urban settings with growing populations. To assess the effectiveness of this induced retail modernization of the fresh vegetables market in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, the paper examines for whom and under which conditions does this approach deliver the desired outcomes.

The survey data and interviews show that ongoing retail modernization in Hanoi reaches only a minor segment of the population and drives a large group of shoppers into informal vending structures.

On the basis of five case studies, this paper demonstrates how similar supermarket interventions can yield contrasting outcomes when they do not accommodate for differences in shopper population and do not adapt to variations in the urban conditions.

To reduce exposure to unsafe food, particularly for poorer segments of the population, the research concluded that developing a flexible portfolio of retail modernization pathways and adopting a reflexive policy approach provide better impact and leverage, as opposed to the current trend of promoting supermarkets as a single, ideal-type form of food shopping.

Dialogue on Food Safety: the importance of traceability and legal enforcement

The Food, Agri and Aqua Business Sector Committee (FAASC) of the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam (EuroCham) organised a dialogue (27th of May 2015) between Government representatives and companies regarding the importance of traceability and legal enforcement for the control of food safety.

Food safety is still an issue in Vietnam and this limits Vietnam in exporting food, agriculture and aquaculture products. Too frequent products are blocked at the border of the importing country due to existence of high levels of certain heavy metals, bacteria, virus, moulds or other prohibited substances in products. This costs money and damages the reputation of Vietnamese products.

Currently various free trade agreements, such as the EU-VN Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are being negotiated. For 2015 the export goal for agricultural products is set at 32 billion USD. To reach this goal, it is important that food safety issues will be addressed.

The legal framework exists and the Government takes measures to improve food safety, however it is not enough. There are various ways to achieve the goal of safe food. Traceability and legal enforcement are two of such ways that can support the improvement of food safety.

  • Traceability is important in case of a food safety issue. Companies need to track down the origin of their ingredients, so in the worst-case scenario a product can be recalled. Also, consumers are concerned about food safety and would like to know the source of their purchased products.
  • Legal enforcement is equally important. Existing regulations should be enforced in an efficient and effective way. Currently, violating the rules is in some cases profitable. Fines are (too) low and the risk of being caught is not very high. Various food issues can be avoided by simply enforcing existing regulations.

Actions to improve

  • Companies should improve the food safety situation by introducing and using a traceability system.
  • The Government should check these traceability systems and should enforce existing regulations. Both foreign as local companies should be treated in the same way as the applicable law requires.

The dialogue has brought together representatives of various departments and agencies of the Vietnamese Government representatives of several embassies, international organisations and relevant industry and professional Vietnamese associations. Several keynote speakers were invited to present about product traceability legal enforcement:

Product traceability

  • Jean Jacques Bouflet, Minister Counsellor and Head of the Economics and Trade section of the EU delegation in Vietnam, highlighted the importance of traceability as the cornerstone of reliable and sustainable trade exchanges between counties and referred to a cooperation program between the EU and Vietnam to share the European traceability experience through TRACES (= TRAde Control and Expert System). This is a trans-European network for veterinary health which notifies, certifies and monitors imports, exports and trade of animals and animal products.
  • Nguyen Hung Long, deputy director of the Vietnam Food Administration, presented the current status of traceability in Vietnam.
  • Peter Robson, CEO of DSM Vietnam, and Siebe van Wijk, managing director of Fresh Studio, presented the implementation of their companies in relation to traceability.

Fresh Studio’s managing director, Siebe van Wijk stated:

“Traceability systems are an important tool in controlling food safety, because farmers will realize that a company can, in case food safety violations occur, always trace from which farm a product is originating. But this is just one of the elements which are needed to make Vietnam more successful in exports of agricultural products. This is a task which the private sector can control and implement itself, but one of the larger bottlenecks for successful exports is completely in the hands of the Vietnamese government: market access of Vietnamese products to neighbouring countries. Van Wijk gave the example of the trade balance for fruit between Thailand and Vietnam. While the Thai exports of fruits to Vietnam has a value of US$ 178 mln per year, Vietnam is only exporting about US$ 10 mln. This negative trade balance is caused by the fact that Vietnam is only allowed by Thailand to export dragon fruit, and for vegetables, only sweet potato. This is a very unbalanced situation, as Thai mandarins, rambutans, mangosteens and many other fruits flood the Vietnamese market. Vietnam could export a lot more fruits to Thailand, or other ASEAN countries, but unfortunately little market access has been arranged.”

Making Vietnam successful in fruit exports

  • Vo Ngan Giang of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), presented results on a pilot traceability project for poultry in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Legal enforcement
  • Nguyen Xuan Duong, Deputy Director General of Animal Husbandry Department, MARD, presented the current performance in relation with checking animal feed additives.
  • Kao Sieu Luc, president of ABC bakery, and Eric Schubert of Lesaffre informed the attendees the motivation to ban products as potassium bromate by companies.

Download all presentations at

After the presentations a lively and interesting discussion took place between representatives of the industry, government officials of the relevant ministries as well as representatives of international organisations.

Smallholders link to supply supermarkets

A food safety crisis in Vietnam has opened the door to smallholder vegetable producers in the north-western highlands to pioneer an agribusiness model that is now supplying Hanoi with certified safe produce.

New vegetable supply chains developed in an ACIAR agribusiness project have linked Vietnamese farmers in poor highland villages in Moc Chau district with the modern retailers that are changing the way people shop in Hanoi. The public private partnership (PPP) involved the Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute, the Research Institute of Fruits and Vegetables, Hanoi University of Agriculture, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and Fresh Studio.


Source: ACIAR – Partners magazine

Publication date: April 2015

Moc Chau safe vegetables for the common interest of farmers, suppliers, retailers and consumers

‘Rau an toàn Mộc Châu’ or ‘Moc Chau safe vegetables’ are now presented daily on the tables of many families, canteens and restaurants in Hanoi, meeting the demands of many consumers for safe, fresh and delicious vegetables.

This is a result from strong linkages between the Moc Chau district authority, Son La provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the research team of the ACIAR-funded project ‘Improved market engagement for counter-seasonal vegetables producers in North-West Vietnam’.


Source: ACIAR in Vietnam magazine

Publication date: March 2015

Nutrition sensitive agriculture – Looking through a nutrition lens

Vietnam is in the process of providing the food necessary for health and growth. While nutritional food is essential in a daily diet, food systems and nutritional intake are changing. The trend in Vietnam is too little-too bad (low nutritional status and low quality) or too much-too sweet/fat.

ACIAR and University of Adelaine organized a small discussion workshop on the 1st and 2nd of December 2014 with the title ‘Nutrition sensitive agriculture- looking through a nutrition lens’. Nutrition sensitive agriculture aims to maximize the impact of nutrition outcomes for the poor, while minimizing the unintended negative nutritional consequences of agricultural interventions and policies on the poor, especially women and young children (World Bank, 2013).

The workshop assembled researchers, development specialists and agencies working in the area of measuring nutritional impact, food security, diet diversity and consumption to share current research findings, indicators and approaches.

Several keynote speakers were invited to share their thoughts on the different nutrition topics in different areas.

  • According to Ms. Wendy Umberger – Director Global Food Studies and A/Professor Agricultural and Food Economics, University of Adelaide – are food systems changing. The transformation of traditional and modern retailing may impact the health of society. She examined the relationship between food market environment, supermarket penetration, dietary changes, diet related diseases among urban Indonesian households and likely impacts of modern retailing on smallholder farmers in Indonesia.
  • Ms. Ellen Goddard – Professor and Co-operative Chair, Agricultural Marketing and Business, University of Alberta – discussed the enhancement food and nutrition security during a study on household home gardening in India. She pointed to the effect of growing fruit and vegetables by households, which doesn’t imply an improvement of the nutritional quality of the diets.
  • Mr. Nguyen Dinh Quang – UNICEF – presented results from NNSSS and MICS research on the nutritional status of women & children in Vietnam. In his presentation he highlighted the growing issue of stunting, an indicator of nutritional status, among children below 5 years and the disparity among rural regions.
  • Ms. Sigrid Wertheim-Heck – Marketing and BD director of Fresh Studio – is working on dietary topics over the last years and highlighted the circumstance in urban Vietnam: the first impression of nutritious intake seems decent; however the trend is two sides 1) not having enough or 2) not eating enough of the right products. Fresh Studio showed that 70% of Hanoi population is facing potentially dietary issues and the access towards healthy and safe diet is limited in terms of income, action radius and knowledge. The challenge is how to introduce healthy food into the daily diet.
Ms. Sigrid Wertheim-Heck presenting about: Nutrition vulnerability past or future?
  • Ms. Maria Yvette Reyes and Mr. Nguyen An Vu – World Vision Vietnam – spoke about how to demonstrate impact on specific child well-being aspirations, implying that every child should enjoy good health, should be educated for live, feel love and be able to express love and is protected and participating. Integrated community based meetings of caregivers including among others interactive games about hygiene, child care, nutrition, feeding practices, regular child growth monitoring. The positive impact of interventions with nutrition community clubs was supported by Ms. Nguyen Thi Thuyet Mai – Vietnamese Women’s Union. VWU is working with 755 community clubs in more than 30 areas in Vietnam among others with Unilever’s program to empower women.

Where to from here?

Investments have to be made to develop modules. Vietnam is a good starting place, since a lot of good national data is available (e.g. World vision, NIN, Unicef) and the capacity is there to measure the data in order to develop modules, to check the robustness of different nutrition methods and to create interventions to meet the challenges.

A fruitful platform where lessons learned were shared and future initiatives and nutritional interventions collaboration were made.

Download the other presentations here: