Chieng Ken women connecting to global spice and perfume markets
Posted on 21/07/2021
In the past, women in the highlands of Chieng Ken Commune, Van Ban District, in Vietnam’s Lao Cai Province relied on growing maize, sweet potatoes, and cassava for a living – generally time-consuming and low value crops.
These women are now working with a project delivered in a partnership between the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program and Duc Phu Company. The investment is focused on empowering and supporting women to diversify and increase their income by producing and supplying higher value products including benzoin (a resin used in perfumes) and organic spices.
With a new focus on benzoin production the women shifted from cultivating bodhi trees for wood, to cultivating the trees for benzoin. Organic ginger can be grown in the shade of the bodhi trees, allowing for productive inter-cropping. This results in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable source of income.
Duc Phu purchases benzoin from the Commune to develop benzoin products, and with GREAT’s support is working to develop a sustainable value chain for both benzoin and ginger. Farmer groups have been established and trained on how to grow, care and collect the benzoin and how to inter-crop the organic ginger in a sustainable way.
Management skills training has also been provided, with a focus on building the confidence of women to come and discuss the benzoin and ginger production techniques and to build skills in meeting facilitation, work coordination and collaboration. The women are also supported to develop business plans for the farmer groups that align with Duc Phu’s business plan.
The success of the project has prompted participating women to mobilise other households to produce spices and benzoin in preparation for the next crop – a positive sign of wider community uptake.
“At first, I was confused about whether and how to join the ginger planting project, but thanks to the advice and encouragement of the women who had participated in the past, I was more confident. Now, I’ll ask other members when I don’t know something and everyone supports me enthusiastically, so I also feel more secure,”, said Mrs Hoang Thi Canh.
Duc Phu encourages women to take group leadership roles and frequently integrates gender equality content into the technical training. In October 2020, Duc Phu collaborated with the Van Ban District Women’s Union to host a gender equality event to celebrate Vietnam’s National Women’s Day. Women from local communes joined the event, which included cultural performances and role plays to promote workload sharing and joint decision making between women and men.
At the start of the cinnamon and ginger project, Chieng Kheng women were often shy and hesitant to get involved. However, after one year of project implementation, women are the majority of growers.
Mrs Vuong Hong Viet previously only knew how to grow corn, potatoes and cassava but is now growing ginger according to organic standards.
“I and other village women learnt how to sustainably produce bodhi resin and grow ginger beneath the trees. The income generated doubles or triples my previous income from maize, potato or cassava. I can now afford new household appliances. Our lives are less hard. We have strong belief in the model and are hopeful for the future”, said Mrs Viet.
On average, a household with one hectare of bodhi trees can generate 300-400 kg of resin in a year. The resin is sold to Duc Phu at an agreed transparent price of VND 350,000 per kg.
Previously when bodhi trees were cut down for wood, one hectare would generate VND 60 million per eight-year cycle. Now the benzoin produced from bodhi tree plantations can generate VND 1.5 billion per hectare per year.
The farmers now cultivate, produce and process bodhi trees and benzoin that is compliant with international standards including the Union for Ethical BioTrade and organic certification.
These standards require that no chemicals or pesticides be used, and that biodiversity and environment conservation standards are maintained. At present, 40 households benefitting 107 ethnic minority women are growing 500 ha of bodhi forest for resin, and they are cultivating 37 ha of organic ginger.
“GREAT and Duc Phu assist local farmers in their production, which helps increase their income, and also helps the ethnic minority women have a stronger voice in the community” said Chieng Ken Commune Chairman, Mr Trieu Tai Lam.
The Van Ban District Government has approved planning permits for 1,000 hectares of bodhi tree plantation areas and has collaborated in the development of technical procedures to support the shift from bodhi tree cultivation for wood to producing benzoin and ginger production.
According to Mr Lam, these results will contribute positively to the local forest-based economy development.