Women and youth at the heart of the shift to sustainable food systems in Vietnam

Women and youth at the heart of the shift to sustainable food systems in Vietnam

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Vuong Tuyet Nhung
Vuong Tuyet Nhung
Communications Officer
+84-24 6258 3640/41 - ext. 35

In collaboration with the Women’s Initiative for Start-ups and Entrepreneurship (WISE) in Vietnam, Rikolto assembled more than 100 farmers, distributors, retailers, researchers, government authorities and stakeholders from the food supply chain in Hanoi to exchange opportunities and challenges and address solutions towards building sustainable urban food systems.

The workshop “Effective distribution of healthy, sustainable and nutritious agri-food in the urban food system”, held in July, was organised in partnership with WISE - a wide network of women start-ups and entrepreneurs – to create a forum which among its objectives supports young entrepreneurs developing ventures that contribute to the sustainability of urban food systems. At this workshop, the first steps are being taken.

“Hanoi consumers have high expectations for the quality and appearance of safe vegetables. Vegetables sold at wholesale markets and farmers' markets lack a clear origin, whereas vegetables sold at grocery stores, convenience stores and supermarkets usually have traceability tools and labels” said Nguyen Thi Tan Loc from the Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute (FAVRI) during the virtual event. However, the amount of food distributed through the latter channel is only 10% of the total distribution.

Nowadays there is an opportunity for safe food with the use of e-commerce platforms, according to Tan Loc. “The challenge in Hanoi could be ´what produce to grow and sell´ to meet the market demand” she adds.

Farmers, meanwhile, are facing a lack of access to information (materials, technology, output), adaptation to climate change, pests and crop diseases, access to finance and access to new markets on a fairer playing field, etc.

Food distributors are not dragging their feet - traceability, food safety, and quality are also challenges. In addition, a sustainable food system must consider environmental aspects such as reducing emissions, food waste and the use of plastic bags.

The bottleneck in food distribution

According to Ms Le Thi Thu Huong from SNV in Vietnam, unlike other countries in the Mekong region such as Thailand, the development of a healthy, sustainable and nutritious (HSN) agri-food distribution in the urban food systems in Vietnam has to focus not only on supermarkets but also on a variety of distribution channels, including traditional markets, grocery stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, etc.

However, the lack of market information, production operation and productivity does not meet consumers' requirements regarding transparency and safety, and the link between farmers and consumers is limited and channelled through the distributors.

“The biggest challenge for HSN agri-food distributors is gaining consumer trust” said Tran Manh Chien, founder and CEO of the food chain “Bac Tom”.

Formal distributors should use the potential of media platforms such as social media to increase consumer reach. Furthermore, the distribution of HSN agri-food in Hanoi’s food system should take account of accountable certification for production units.

Mr Nguyen Van Chi, Representative Office of the New Urban Area Program in Hanoi, recognises the role of distributors not only in sales but also in transmitting production values to consumers.

“The biggest challenge of distribution in Hanoi’s food system is the lack of agents that play the role of transmitting information from producers to consumers and the loose connection between retail distributors,” adds Nguyen Van Chi.

Difficulties, challenges and solutions

During the workshop, participants shared the three main challenges to be addressed in agri-food distribution in Hanoi:

  • First, the link between producers, distributors and consumers is still shaky and not based on the value chain. Small groups of farmers find it difficult to connect with consistent producers, while distributors struggle to find a source of quality supplies, long-term commitment, and branding investment. Farmers also lack the resources and knowledge necessary to reduce production costs, manage losses and preserve agricultural products.
  • Second, there is limited access to information and a mechanism for sharing transparent information from producers, distributors and consumers, such as traceability, safety, quality, labels and distributors, and communication and education information about HSN Agri-food products for customers.
  • Third, at the government level, actual data, such as the number of farmers producing safe food and the number of consumers accessing and using safe products, are still limited. The management of wholesale and wet markets is still loose, with no product traceability.

The workshop participants agreed on solutions to strengthen networks and form an urban HSN agri-food ecosystem to promote the transformation towards an urban sustainable food system. Members of the ecosystem can connect, support and monitor one another, improving traceability and lowering intermediary costs between producers and consumers.

Beyond 2021, Rikolto´s programme will focus on supporting young entrepreneurs through business and incubation projects. These events will provide insights for supporting entrepreneurs as well as designing and implementing interventions adapted to the real needs and aspirations of young entrepreneurs in the agri-food system in Vietnam.

Speakers at the workshop included Nguyen Thi Tan Loc - Head of Market Economics Department, Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute (FAVRI), Tu Tuyet Nhung - Head of Coordination Committee of Organics PGS Vietnam, Nguyen Van Chi - Permanent Deputy Chief of the Hanoi Office of New Rural Development Program Coordination, Tran Manh Chien - Founder and CEO of Bac Tom food chain store, Le Thi Thu Huong - Value Chain Advisor, CAFÉ-REDD Project, SNV Vietnam, and Nguyen Thi Thu – Director and Founder of MEVI Support Impactful Business Initiative Joint Stock Company.

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