Aus4EqualityGREAT storiesBamboo shoots grow hope for poor women

Bamboo shoots grow hope for poor women

With sweat on her forehead, Ms Dinh Thi Oanh carefully checked to see if the bamboo seedlings had grown roots. Soon these seedlings will be brought to the hills to plant and, with the harvest of the bamboo shoots, they will help women like Ms Oanh to live a fuller and happier life.

Starting from empty hands

Ms Oanh, born in 1971, is a member of the Xuan Nha Clean Bamboo Shoot Cooperative in Xuan Nha Commune, Van Ho District, Son La Province.

In the past, her family mainly worked as hired workers in rice and maize fields, earning a very low income. Ms Oanh’s family was particularly poor, so her eldest son (born in 1991) had to drop out of school in the middle of grade 11 to earn money so that his two siblings (born in 1992 and 1996) could go to school. All three of Ms Oanh’s children often had to work to help their parents. This work included gardening and raising pigs and chickens. The family could not afford nutritious meals and suffered from poor health as a result.

Ms Oanh is industrious and hardworking. She is also active in the local Women’s Union and, in 2000, she was the branch head of the Na Hieng Village Women’s Association.

Ms Dinh Thi Oanh

However, her involvement in life outside of the home became challenging due to a tumultuous relationship with her husband who struggled with substance abuse and could be violent and controlling.

In 2014, Ms Oanh made the courageous step with the support of her children to seek a divorce. She was 43 years old when she and her children left to start a new life.

They first lived with Ms Oanh’s brother while working a number of jobs, eventually saving enough money to be able to secure a mortgage and buy a house.

Confidently take control of life

In April 2019, a clean bamboo shoot production project was implemented in Xuan Nha, Tan Xuan and Chieng Xuan communes in Van Ho District with support from the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Programme.

The project supported a range of activities to help develop the bamboo industry in Van Ho, including: the establishment of bamboo shoots cooperatives; guidance on the sustainable collection and processing of bamboo shoots in line with organic standards; introducing new production technology such as a mobile management app, innovative bamboo shoot boilers and solar drying houses; and connecting growers to high-value markets. GREAT also provided training on digital marketing so that cooperative members could promote their products on e-commerce platforms.

Xuan Nha Clean Bamboo Shoot Cooperative  in Ms Oanh’s commune was one of the cooperatives established with support from the project.

Since participating in the project, Ms Oanh has been trained in communication skills, gender equality, women’s empowerment and business planning. She is now confidently involved in the Cooperative’s activities and in the economic development of the family.

“Thanks to the Cooperative and the GREAT Program, my life completely changed. I don’t have to do extra work anymore, but can focus on collecting and processing bamboo shoots,” she said.

The market is stable, so the income for Cooperative members like Ms Oanh is guaranteed.

Ms Oanh’s family is no longer considered poor, and her bank loan has been paid off. Last year, Ms Oanh earned enough money to buy new furniture for her house, including a TV, refrigerator, washing machine, a water purifier and a gas stove.

“My children have matured, married and moved out. My average income is VND80 million per year. Before that, I worked as a hired worker and grew maize and rice, and only earned about VND20 million a year,” she said.

Ms Lo Thi Nguyen, Director of the Xuan Nha Clean Bamboo Shoot Cooperative, explained that the Cooperative currently had 13 members, with a 1,000m2 seedling farm, a 500m2 factory and a 100m2 solar drying house.

“The Cooperative has signed a 20-year contract with Yen Thanh Joint Stock Company to sell bamboo shoots and, in addition to collecting natural bamboo shoots, we have mobilised our members to plant 150 hectares of Bat Do bamboo shoots for export,” Ms Nguyen said.

Ms Oanh planted 200 Bat Do bamboo plants on a 5000m2 area. In the first year, she and other members were supported by the project with 75% of the capital provided to buy seedlings. In 2021, they were trained to produce 30,000 seedlings to plant across a 60 hectares. The revenue from selling the seedlings was more than VND400 million, and the revenue from the bamboo shoots was almost VND200 million.

“Since joining the GREAT Program, we are much more confident. We are aware that growing organic bamboo shoots is the right direction for women to confidently take charge of their lives,” said Ms Oanh./.