Change Begins at Home – The Story of Linh
Posted on 07/07/2021
When we visited Linh’s house on a chilly cold and drizzly winter afternoon, she welcomed us at her door with a cheerful smile that brightened the cold humid space.
Trang Thi Ngoc Linh was born in 1990 and is part of the Mong ethnic community. When we arrived at her home, she was in the middle of a business transaction. Pointing at a bamboo basket, Linh explained that a customer from Hanoi had ordered 10 kg of ‘cát cánh’ for their restaurant’s ‘thắng cố’ dish.
Cát cánh is a herbaceous plant of the bellflower family, used in traditional medicine and cooking. This is an annual crop that can generate additional income for households in Ta Van Chu Commune.
“I have just returned from picking them. The main season is over so the price is VND 55,000 per kilogram, in mid-season I would charge only VND 35,000/kg,” Linh explained.
Just two years ago it would have been hard to imagine Linh so confidently managing a business transaction via her mobile phone.
Linh finished grade 12 when she was 17 and soon after she fell in love, was married and moved to live with her husband and his family in Ta Van Chu Commune in Bac Ha District, Lao Cai Province. This was a turning point for a young girl who had only ever lived and worked with her immediate family.
Before getting married, Linh had studied and supported her mother with maize farming. Her father was a buffalo trader, so her family was considered relatively well-off financially. When she moved to live with her husband’s family, her new position as the oldest daughter-in-law of a large family meant she was busy from morning until night. Her husband’s family had three hectares of land on which all kinds of plants were grown, including rice, maize, potato, groundnuts, tea and plums. Day after day, Linh worked hard in the fields, caring for the animals, household chores, and caring for her new family.
With no money of her own and not being particularly good at farming or housework, Linh found she had almost no voice within her new family. She could only silently do whatever her parents-in-law asked and they kept all the money that was made. She did not dare to go anywhere except for around the house or the fields.
Since joining a project implemented via a partnership between the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program and Helvetas Vietnam, Linh’s skills and confidence have grown. The project is focused on women’s economic empowerment through market systems development in medicinal plants and inter-cropping with Shan Tea. Through the project, Linh has learned how to grow medicinal plants and organic tea. She also learned about gender equality and household financial management.
Linh shared everything she had learned with her husband and they discussed how they might apply this new knowledge within their household. At first, Linh faced resistance from her husband and parents-in-law, but by continuing to share the benefits of the new techniques and practices she had learned, she persuaded them to agree to try the new techniques for medicinal plant and organic tea cultivation in line with the Good Agricultural and Collecting Practices (GACP) standard.
Previously, the family’s income from cash crops was limited and unstable, and their customers who bought using credit sometimes did not pay at all. Since introducing medicinal plants with the project’s support, the products have been sold from the farm gate at good prices, resulting in a higher and more stable income for the family.
Linh was confident as she expanded the medicinal plant growing areas and started to care for their long un-cultivated tea garden.
From one hectare of medicinal plants, Linh was able to harvest 1.7 tonnes and earned VND 34 million a year. With this income, together with the income from the plum and tea gardens, her household income improved considerably.
Linh also received training in leadership and presentation skills, and she was coached to be a trainer so that could share her knowledge and skills and empower other women in her commune. She has also represented Bac Ha District as a coach, training both men and women in other locations.
Linh’s life has changed significantly. Now she and her husband have become the breadwinners who cover all food costs and half of the living cost of the whole family. This has helped to change the way her parents-in-law regard Linh, notably respecting her abilities and her contributions to the family and recognising her right and agency to make her own decisions and move freely.
Her relatives and neighbours, following her example, are now making organic compost, are raising red worms to feed their chickens and have stopped using pesticides and chemical fertilisers to better protect the environment and their health.
Linh has plans to further invest in medicinal plants and tea cultivation and to begin looking for customers on her own.
“Later, when the project ends, I will be able to continue,” she said smiling.
We smiled too and hoped that in this remote mountainous region there are more and more inspiring women who can enrich their own families and communities in the same way that Linh has.
Bac Ha, January 2021