Aus4EqualityGREAT storiesA young female entrepreneur with a great mission

A young female entrepreneur with a great mission

Born in 1989, Nguyen Thi Huyen – the energetic female director of Vina Samex Company has more than 10 years of experience working in the specialty spice sector in Vietnam. As the third largest cinnamon producer in the world, Vietnam has natural advantages that have supported the growth of companies like Vina Samex. However, initially, the Company was very much a low-end commodity exporter to countries including India, Bangladesh and the Middle East. It also had weak linkages with growers as the cinnamon was being sourced through local traders.

Nguyen Thi Huyen in the cinnamon forest

However, due to market demand the Company began to change its business philosophy. After attending international trade fairs and participating in missions from overseas buyers, Huyen realised that there was a growing demand for high value cinnamon. Huyen and her colleagues began to visit cinnamon growing areas to learn more and talk with the growers. They found that farmers had limited knowledge on cinnamon, even though their lives had been intertwined with cinnamon trees for many years. There were also very limited local support services so many farmers did not even know how cinnamon was being used by the end consumers and lacked knowledge on cultivation practices. This was leading to unstable production and low productivity. After these visits, Huyen was inspired to promote Vietnam’s competitive advantage in cinnamon by improving the quality to meet the demands of international market and at the same time create increased income and opportunities for Vietnamese farmers. A key demand from European buyers was for cinnamon to be organically certified.

Huyen is meeting an international customer

In 2017, Vina Samex achieved organic certification for its cinnamon cultivation area in Yen Bai. Despite the Company’s export volume reducing with the move to organic cinnamon, the selling price increased significantly. With growing market demand and the support of GREAT, Huyen saw the opportunity to expand to Van Ban District in Lao Cai Province. As one of the largest cinnamon cultivation areas in Vietnam with 36,500 ha, Lao Cai has great development potential. Similar to Yen Bai, local people did not fully understand the value of cinnamon as well as proper cultivation techniques. Huyen also realised that local women, especially ethnic minority women, played a very important role in cinnamon cultivation, including growing, tending and harvesting. At the same time, they were responsible for doing other farming, housework and taking care of children. This limited their ability to access training on sustainable cinnamon cultivation. The local women also tended to lack financial management skills and had little decision-making authority in the family. As a woman, Huyen had compassion for the local ethnic minority women as she had also encountered a lot of challenges and social stereotypes as a female entrepreneur. Huyen, along with her husband and other company colleagues are committed to contribute to improving economic opportunities for women in Van Ban as well as help them to have a more balanced workload and increased voice in their family and community.

Huyen with her husband (on her left) and her company colleagues

Vina Samex is partnering with SNV and GREAT to develop organic cinnamon production in Van Ban, Lao Cai. The project includes developing a 1,200-hectare cultivation area, building a new processing facility in Lao Cai, upgrading production lines and training on organic cinnamon production. With the potential to increase women’s income by two to three times, the project is working to economically benefit 756 women, mainly from the Tay, Dao and Mong ethnic groups, as well as improving their confidence and financial literacy.

“Today, growers in Van Ban have a clear understanding of the value of cinnamon and consider cinnamon as a vital crop to support the family economy. Women are gradually having a bigger voice in the family, community and society.”