Transition towards sustainable shallot value chains in the Mekong Delta

Maybe unknown to many but shallot is one of the key vegetable crops in the Mekong Delta, generating one of the highest income contributions per m2 and month. One of the most important production areas for shallot in Vietnam, is Vinh Chau district in Soc Trang province in the Mekong Delta.

Shallots are a crucial source of income for farmers and workers, who mostly belong to the Khmer ethnicity. Poverty incidence among the Khmer, are one of the highest in the Mekong Delta. For those Khmer who have been able to switch to shallot farming, this has been one of the few pathways to grow out of poverty. Just the shallot sector in Vinh Chau district created jobs for about 70,000 Khmer.

Collecting shallots after harvest from the field (picture: Fresh Studio®)

High use of ground water

Although shallot has been an important crop to reduce poverty among the Khmer, the current farming system is putting pressure on the environment, as currently large amounts of ground water is used to produce shallots in an inefficient way.

Based on data collection by Fresh Studio, the volume of ground water being used for one shallot crop cycle being cultivated on 1,000 m2 is estimated to be 220.5 m3. The volume of 220.5 m3/1,000 m2 per crop cycle, means 2,205 m3/ha per crop cycle. If we multiply this number times the 6,000 ha of shallot cultivation in Vinh Chau, this means that in the main shallot season an estimated 13,230,000 m3 of ground water is used for shallot production. This is equal to 189,000 m3 of ground water per day for 70 days, which is an enormous amount of water.

There are two key reasons for this high use of water:

  • Inefficient irrigation methods
  • At least one to two crop cycles to produce the shallot bulbs used as propagation material, before the main shallot crop is grown. These shallot bulbs cropping cycles for propagation material also require quite some water.

The extraction of ground water for shallot production leads to land subsidence in Vinh Chau district. Land subsidence makes the Mekong Delta more vulnerable to the rising sea levels and accelerates salinization.

Irrigation by hand of shallot crop in Soc Trang (picture: Fresh Studio®)

Current irrigation method

That farmers mainly use ground water, through their own drilled wells for irrigation water is confirmed by a study among 90 farm households in Vinh Chau district in Soc Trang Province, of which 85% use groundwater from drilled wells during the dry season. Unfortunately, this groundwater is then used in an inefficient way, mainly delivered in buckets, whereby only 20% of the irrigation water reaches the crop, according to the head of the Soc Trang department of irrigation (Vietnamnet, 2013). 

This current inefficient irrigation methods, are confirmed by a study by Can Tho university with sprinkler irrigation on shallots in Vinh Chau. This improved irrigation system resulted in a 43-59% reduction in water use and an income increase of 20% (Hong Minh Hoang et al, 2016).  The Asian Development Bank in a paper published in 2017 also identifies the implementation of high efficiently irrigation systems (HEIS), such as sprinklers and drip irrigation, as a key strategy to reduce the amount of water used per kg of crop produced. 

Bringing these technologies to smallholder farmers in the Mekong Delta would be an important innovation and one that would be supported by government policy, which has recommended that HEIS be adopted more widely.

Shallot bulbs

Currently farmers produce their own shallots bulbs as propagation material, to produce consumption shallots in the December- March period which they sell to traders.

To produce these shallot bulbs, they use a part of the harvest of the December – March, and then plant those shallots bulbs again in very high density to produce bulbs as propagation material to be used for next season. They produce the shallot bulbs as propagation material in the Feb-April period, after which they need to store the shallot bulbs till December of the new production season.

During this storage period from April till November about 30-40% of the shallot bulbs stored as propagation material for the next shallot production season, will be lost (mainly due to Fusarium). As a result of losses, many farmers produce yet another shallot bulb crop in November – December, using additional water without increasing productivity.

In addition to significant post-harvest losses and the high costs to produce the shallot bulbs as propagation material, the shallot bulb production also has the big disadvantage of propagating diseases, thereby reducing productivity in future harvests as well.

Tropical hybrid shallot variety

A new tropical hybrid shallot variety (Maserati) developed by the Dutch seed company Bejo Zaden B.V. enables shallot farmers to produce shallots from seeds.

Maserati is based on the genetic material of the Vinh Chau shallot and therefore has the same appearance and taste. These shallot seeds can be sowed directly in the field or first used to produce shallot seedlings, which are then transplanted in the field to produce shallots. Because these true shallot seeds are hybrid and will be guaranteed disease free, the farmer will get higher yields and a better pest and disease resistance.

In addition, they will not have to spend one or two seasons on producing and storing the shallots bulbs as propagation material. Even though the seed price might be higher, starting with hybrid shallot seedlings (produced from seeds), will have an enormous impact on increasing farm income and will halve their use of ground water for shallot farming.

Adaptation of innovative and sustainable production practices, such as sprinkler or drip irrigation, irrigation decision support tools, fertilizer application advise and integrated pest and diseases management to name a few will further increase the positive impact on farmer’s income, water use efficiency and reduce the agro-chemical footprint of shallot production on the environment.

Successful mini-bulb production from hybrid seed for early planting of next shallot production season. After mini-bulb production, shallot seedlings are produced in the nursery for the main shallot production season.

Impact cluster: combining technologies and knowledge

This is also an important reason why this impact cluster is formed, as just introducing hybrid shallot seeds to shallot farmers is not the optimal solution. The combination of the knowledge and technologies of the impact cluster partners enables the cluster to establish and introduce shallot farmers the system to start their shallot production from hybrid shallot seedlings.

The creation of nurseries specialized in producing hybrid shallot seedlings and mini bulbs provides an opportunity to generate additional income and jobs in the region. As part this project the following parties collaborate together:

  • Bejo zaden
  • Groot & Slot
  • Royal Brinkman
  • BvB Substrates
  • Eurofins
  • Can Tho University
  • Fresh Studio
Project meeting at Can Tho University

Project objective

The main objective of the impact cluster “Transition towards sustainable shallot value chains in the Mekong Delta” is to strengthen the shallot production sector in the Mekong Delta (Soc Trang province, > 6,000 hectares of shallot production), by introducing and making innovative Dutch production technologies and methods accessible for local shallot farmers, which will make shallot production more sustainable and profitable.

The impact cluster will further strengthen the adoption of these improved production technologies, by creating market linkages for the shallot farmers, so that a sustainable shallot value chain is developed.

Project activities

Through this impact cluster an important contribution will be made to address excessive and inefficient water use by shallot farmers in the Mekong Delta.

In the area of Vinh Chau district of Soc Trang Province, shallot farming is the second largest agricultural land use activity. This type of land use is contributing to one of the highest rates of subsidence in the Mekong Delta (Minderhoud et al, 2018), making the shallot sector a key contributor to reduced water security in the region. By increasing water use-efficiency, the extraction of ground water can be halved, which can help to reduce the rate of land subsidence. 

The main activities of the impact cluster to achieve the project objective are:

  • Demonstrating optimized irrigation strategy and water use efficiency
  • Demonstrating optimized shallot production technologies through hybrid shallot seedlings and integrated pest and disease management
  • Demonstrating optimized fertiliser application strategy
  • Field days to showcase improved hybrid shallot production technologies
  • Develop training programs in sustainable and improved hybrid shallot production for farmers
  • Capacity building shallot sector stakeholders
  • Creating market linkages of hybrid shallot producers with the domestic and export markets

Strengthening the Mango value chain in the Mekong Delta

The “Strengthening the Mango value chain in the Mekong Delta” project aims to enable stakeholders throughout the value chain to successfully implement identified innovations to enhance their business in terms of sustainability, climate chain resilience and profitability.

Agricultural production in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam is of great national and global importance for current and future food security as well as rural income. It is threatened by the consequences of climate change and the unsustainable use of water and agrochemicals. The smallholders of the Mekong Delta region are not yet able to access existing and developing innovations to ensure their business and income are secure. There even more difficulties in ensuring their production methods are environmentally sustainable. Limited access to innovation limits sustainable rural development and improved food quality and security.

An overview of the component “Strengthening the Mango Value Chain In The Mekong Delta”

The Vietnam country package is a part of their global project “Green Innovation Centre (GIC) in the Agricultural and Food Sector” of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) special initiative “ONE WORLD without Hunger”. It is carried out in six central provinces of the Mekong Delta: An Giang, Dong Thap, Can Tho, Tien Giang, Hau Giang and Soc Trang. The main project objective is to provide rice and mango smallholders with access to sustainable innovations to increase income, employment and food quality. The “Strengthening the Mango value chain in the Mekong Delta” project is implemented under the Vietnam country package.

Vietnam produces about 800,000 tons of fresh mango annually, of which about 500,000 tons are produced in the Mekong Delta, this accounts for 45% of the national share of mango orchards. This puts Vietnam in fourteenth place globally in terms of volume of mango production. The majority of mango produced is consumed on the domestic market. 170,000 tons of mango are exported, of which, 94% is unbranded and traded
across the Chinese border. The remaining share is exported to medium-high value markets in the Middle East, Russia, Asia-Pacific, and North America.

Mango Business School is an initiative of the component “Strengthening the Mango Value Chain In The Mekong Delta”. The purpose of Mango Business School is to increase the knowledge capacity of key staffs of cooperatives, companies, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and other actors in the mango value chain.

A more efficient, environmentally friendly and internationally competitive agricultural sector is required to improve exportation of mango products from Vietnam. Global and domestic demand for mango and other tropical fruits has increased due to a change in consumer diets and an increase in disposable income. Consumers are willing to pay premium prices for high quality fruits. This allows for the potential for uptake of innovation to improve the mango value chain and boost exports of fresh and value-added
products.

Introduction to the Powering Aquaculture Progress partnership in Myanmar

The Powering Aquaculture Progress (PAP) project is public-private partnership set to improve the modernization and development of aquaculture supply chains in Myanmar. It is the largest project with foreign direct investment in the aquaculture sector in the country. The team of Fresh Studio Myanmar is managing this project, in partnership with leading animal feed company De Heus, the Myanmar Fishery Federation, Pathein University and Golden Fish World hatchery. The project runs from 2019-2024.

During this five year period, the PAP project aims to achieve the following overall objectives:

  1. Creating access to modern input and technologies, therefore improving quality and access to inputs for farmers, mainly seed and feed;
  2. Improvements on technical knowledge and know-how of farmers, academic institutions, and technical support staff from private and public organisations;
  3. Improvement in efficiency of farming systems through transition towards more productive, shorter cycle and more diverse species, and increased transfer of adapted technologies;
  4. Support value chain coordination between independent actors and promotion of products toward consumers.

To achieve these objectives, the project has been broken down in three main work packages:

1. Access to inputs and technologies 

To make aquaculture a more profitable inclusive business that adds value to the local community, we will start by improving access to improved inputs and technologies, which is the backbone of any agricultural revolution. Our interventions consist of setting up the first fingerling feed production unit in Myanmar; establishing professional breeding centers, by modernizing two existing hatcheries; setting up the first Aquaculture Application Centre (AAC) in Myanmar, to apply knowledge and technologies from around the world.

2. Build capacity and professionalize all actors

Without proper capacity building and technical extension approaches, the adoption of improved inputs and advanced practices will be low, as they will not used properly and result in poor financial return. Our interventions consist of developing a technical team of local aquaculture specialists in key organisations (private & public); setting up satellite farms to transfer the work conducted on the AAC to the farmers; training of trainers embedded in key organisations to guarantee continuous training of farmers.

3. Strengthen farmers’ position in the chain

Improving the (production) capacity of fish farmers is the first step towards upgrading the aquaculture sector of Myanmar. To have access to finance and the market, there is the urgency to organize them. Our interventions include forming an independent producer organization; developing a quality standard and continuous improvement program among members; actively search for linkages and alliances between various actors in the chain.

The partnership is now in Year 2 and implementation has not been without challenges with the political developments and Covid-19 situation changing the political and business landscape in which the partnership is operating. However, the partners remain committed, and the work that ultimately aims to improve the income and food security of Myanmar’s people has become all the more relevant. Detailed plans for hatchery upgrading are on the way; the design for the Aquaculture Application Center is finalized and ready to be constructed after the rainy season in October; and soon a detailed training curriculum will be developed as a collaborative effort between all partners. The partnership is committed to achieve results!

Sowing a bright future for economic development and women’s empowerment

There are great opportunities to increase vegetable production in Son La and through these vegetable value chains empower local ethnic women and increase their technical as well as their management skills.

Successful vegetable production starts with access to good quality seeds, seedlings and access to knowledge and technologies for more advanced vegetable production. Without ensuring that these points are well implemented and present locally it will be difficult to bring vegetable production chains to a higher level.

This project will enable access to good quality seeds, seedlings and knowledge and technologies for more advanced vegetable production to hundreds of local farmers and farmers groups, specifically targeting ethic women.

Project objectives

  • Establishment of a seedling production sector creating increased capacity, additional income and jobs for ethic women in Moc Chau and Van Ho, with further upscaling in other areas.
  • More professional vegetable production resulting in better quality vegetables, produced year-round, in compliance with Viet GAP and against a better cost price generating higher incomes for over 500 famer households in Moc Chau and Van Ho and other areas in Son La province.
  • Establishment of 13 successful agri-businesses led and managed by women.
  • Creation of new and stable jobs within the agriculture sector suitable for local women.
  • Increased capacity of over 350 local women in technical and management skills through extension services, field days and training sessions
  • Accelerate the development of an inclusive, sustainable and modern horticulture production sector in Son La province
  • Increased cooperation between the public and private sector to develop the horticulture sector in Son La providing women more choice to beneficially engage in agriculture.

Project donor

Project partners

  • Applied Horticultural Research
  • BvB Substrates
  • Royal Brinkman
  • Semillas Fito
  • Semences Gautier
  • Fresh Studio

Safe and sustainable pork value chain in Vietnam

Productivity and product quality of Vietnamese pork is low. Nevertheless, Vietnam is ranking in the top 10 of most pork consuming countries.  In order to enhance the pork sector, Fresh Studio and its projects partner are creating the first safe and sustainable pork value chain in Vietnam.

Background

Pork is by far the most consumed meat in Vietnam- with an annual pork consumption of approximately 30 kg per capita/year. The domestic value of reaches at least US$ 8 billion per year. However, compared to international standards, the productivity and product quality of Vietnamese pork is low. Vietnamese pig farmers face a strong pressure to provide low pig price. This makes the business one of the highest risk sectors in agriculture production. On the other hand, there is also a big concern from the society about the safety of pork caused by pig diseases, chemical residues and unhygienic conditions at slaughterhouses and point of sale.

Approach

This project aims to focus on provision of certified safe pork and on transparency and controllability of the pork value chain- from piglets to fresh and processed meat in the retail. It takes into account the environmental issues as well as the welfare of workers and animal to meet the requirements of international and national certification standards (e.g GlobalGAP, VietGAHP) and customers’ expectations. Different activities and approaches will be implemented during the project period:

  • Set up the demonstration farm as a model for farm management and training
  • Develop a set of quality standards covering the whole value chain , from farm to fork
  • Assess and select contracted farmers who have the capacity and interest to produce safe pork meat according to the developed standards
  • Offer trainings and capacity building for all stakeholders along the chain
  • Provide quality control and assurance for pig production and pork meat supply
  • Development and launch of a marketing campaign aiming to give value to the certified safe pork
  • Ensure that social responsibilities principles are implemented all along the chain
  • Respect animal welfare at all stages

Expected outcome

The demonstration farm will be the first Global GAP certified pig farm of Vietnam. This farm will serve as a model for sustainable pig production. The establishment of a new sales channel for professional sustainable and safe pig farmers is expected to provide trust for consumers and gives farmers recognition and premium price. The creation of a safe and sustainable pork value chain will deliver Vietnamese consumers with domestic certified safe pork.

Developing a sustainable potato production system

One of the world’s largest potato processing firms, the world’s leading fertilizer company and the world’s largest crop protection product company contracted Fresh Studio to develop a higher yielding, higher quality and more sustainable potato production protocol in Vietnam.

Fresh Studio joined with leading Dutch potato breeding companies, to select new and potentially suitable potato varieties. In close collaboration with its clients, Fresh Studio developed a variety of cultivation protocols. These new varieties and protocols were tested in random block-design trials during four different seasons. The tests were conducted at Fresh Studio’s own R&D farm in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

These trials resulted in the selection of two much higher yielding and higher quality potato varieties than the currently farmed standard. With these new varieties and improved cultivation protocols, yields were increased from 45% to 80%. Post-harvest and processing trials (fry tests) showed that the new varieties performed better than the current standard.

During our organized field days, hundreds of potato farmers were able to observe the difference between varieties, and related cultivation protocols. Fresh Studio is currently working closely with its clients to introduce these new varieties, conduct more potato trials all over Vietnam, as well as to develop a plan to train large numbers of farmers in new potato cultivation protocols.

Adding knowledge to the chain

Within the framework of the Vietnam Facility, The Netherland Ministry of Economic affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, contracted Fresh Studio.

Together with Applied Plant Research from Wageningen UR, Van Hall Larenstein of the Wageningen University, and Dalat University, Fresh Studio was contracted to manage and implement a project entitled: ‘Adding Knowledge to the Chain”.

This project aimed to find tailored practical solutions for a number of serious problems faced by the market oriented vegetable sector of the Dalat region in Vietnam.

These problems relate to productivity and profitability constraints in vegetable farming, irresponsible pesticide use, over-abundant fertilizer use, farmer safety and consumer food safety. The current vegetable sector in the Dalat region has limitations in current management skills, decision-making, and in finding innovative solutions to address modern market requirements (such as sustainable production methods, food safety and off-season production).

The project managed to establish a collaborative model between farmers, Fresh Studio, market players, Dalat University, agricultural policy makers, and others, which continuously applies innovative R&D, and to promote sustainable and profitable vegetable farming in the Dalat region of Vietnam.

Successfully developed innovations included lettuce production under rain shelters during the rainy season, and bell pepper production in local greenhouses on risky husk-based substrate.

Setting up a vegetable and fish sourcing system

Since 2007, Fresh Studio has been contracted by a multinational wholesaler to manage and develop their vegetable and fish sourcing systems, with the aim to improve product quality and safety standards.

The assignment began with the establishment of a sourcing system in Dalat (Central Highlands of Vietnam). A certified sourcing system with over 150 contracted farmers was drawn up, and a new state-of-the-art HACCP certified pack house was designed and constructed. This system has been running very successfully for over 5 years, and the volumes produced, along with the number of farmers involved, are growing steadily. Every day the Fresh Studio sourcing team is handling over 150 different SKUs, preparing them for nationwide distribution to our client stores.

Inspired by the success of this project, our client asked us to develop a similar system for vegetables in the North of Vietnam, and for fish in Southern Vietnam.

Our aims are:

  • To develop year round supply of guaranteed high quality and safe vegetables from North Vietnam, Fresh Studio is working with 100 smallholder vegetable farmers in the lowlands of the Red River Delta, as well as the poorer and more remote farmers located in the mountains in the North. Using the climatic advantage of the cooler mountains in North Vietnam, a regional solution is being developed to supplement the vegetable supply from the Red River Delta during the summer period, thus creating the possibility for year round supply of guaranteed high quality and safe vegetables from North Vietnam.
  • Almost all investments and professionalization in the aquaculture sector of Vietnam have just focussed on pangasius and shrimp, which are the main seafood export products. But as our client targets the 88 million domestic consumers, nobody till date had developed a professional fresh fish sourcing and processing system targeting the 80 fish species which the Vietnamese love to eat. Within two years time Fresh Studio assisted its client to setup and manage the first fresh fish processing facility and developed a sourcing system which now every day sources fresh fish from over 100 well trained and certified fish farmers and 20 preferred marine and fresh water certified fish collectors.
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