Asia | Fruit and vegetables

Better farming in the Mekong delta

3 mei 2021 09:00

Cung Nguyen grew up as the son of a smallholder fruit farmer in Vietnam’s Mekong delta. He went on to learn the finer points of agriculture at the university - and now he teaches there himself. As a lecturer and fruit merchant, he shares his knowledge with fruit farmers in the delta. Thanks to improved organic farming techniques, they can increase their standard of living with every harvest.

Smallholder farmer in Viet Nam, member of DTT

“In the Mekong delta, thousands of fruit farmers try their luck - with unpredictable results”

The many distributaries of the Mekong river meander through the lowlands of southwestern Vietnam. In these fertile delta soils, thousands of fruit farmers try their luck - with unpredictable results. Dry seasons are increasingly extreme due to climate change, and with lower river levels the salt water of the South China Sea is encroaching into the delta. Many smallholder farmers are unsure about how to grow fruit in the increasingly salty delta. They often only grow one type of fruit, and have no access to financial resources to diversify their crops. A failed harvest therefore often results in a downward spiral: no income, no opportunity to buy fertilizers, another bad harvest, and so on.

From university to delta

Cung was once a farmer’s son in the Mekong delta, but at the university he learned how to grow crops successfully in a region with brackish water. He learned how to work with organic resources that are both good for the delta and produce higher incomes, because organically grown fruit commands higher prices. He has since moved on to teach at the university himself, and 10 years ago he and his students began an information program for farmers in the Mekong delta. The program soon grew to become the company Đại Thuận Thiên (DTT) in 2015. His other company, Bio King, produces organic fertilizers for the delta’s farmers.

Better farming

Cung knows how to share his knowledge with the local farmers. ‘People here aren’t likely to listen to the advice of outsiders. So we always find the most respected farmer in the area to work with first”, explains Cung. “We might recommend that he not plant too many trees, for example, and to grow different types of fruit, such as pomelos or star reinette apples, because they produce high yields. We also provide organic resources on credit. Once a farmer sees his yield increase, others soon become interested as well. They teach each other the new techniques, and then they want to work with us too.”

Organic prices

Cung remains involved after the harvest as well by signing contracts with the farmers to buy their fruit for good prices. “I pay at least 10 to 50 percent above the market price, depending on the type of fruit”, he explains. “I can afford to pay so much more because they produce their fruit organically. That makes it suitable for sale in markets that pay good prices: organic vegetable sellers and chains in Vietnam, but also international markets in South Korea and Japan.”

Priceless smiles

Today, Cung works together with 1,000 farmers in the delta, and he’s setting up partnerships with another 200. “Their harvests are improving, so they earn more and can grow their operations. With their new knowledge, they have the confidence to upgrade to fruit that’s harder to grow, but that earns more profit. With a more secure income, they can make their lives more comfortable buy buying air conditioners and new household appliances. But their surroundings benefit too, because the farmers spend more money and share their knowledge with other farmers. That’s why I do what I do: help farmers and the people around them get ahead in life. And believe me: a farmer’s smile is priceless.”

Rabo Foundation & the farmers in the Mekong delta

Cung Nguyen: “How does Rabo Foundation support us? With their financial support, we now work together with 200 extra farmers. And the help of the Rabo Foundation local consultant (INARI) has given us guidance on financial planning, more and more confidence in our business model. But the main impact is that Rabo Foundation’s assistance has enhanced our reputation among international partners. That results in more partnerships and support, and it makes it easier to find international buyers for the fruit from the Mekong delta. Even Europe is interested in our fruit now.”

Why Rabo Foundation supports Cung Nquyen

We strive to make a sustained social, economic and ecological impact. Cung Nguyen achieves that in the Mekong Delta: farmers and their communities are becoming more prosperous. Their incomes continue to rise, and the fruit is grown responsibly, which is better for the delta.

Our loans, knowledge and network give his efforts extra momentum, so he can share more technical innovations, give more farmers a reliable sales market, and help them adapt to climate change. And those are precisely the three ingredients that Rabo Foundation considers to be essential to sustainably improve the lives of smallholder farmers.