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Happiness Sprouts from Ramie

Despite good harvests of maize and casava, married couple Mrs Quach Thi Tuyen and Mr Ngan Van Dinh from Vietnam’s Son La Province did not earn enough to cover their household living costs. The couple therefore decided to leave their children at home with their grandparents and moved to Dong Nai Province for work.

Mrs Tuyen and Mr Dinh were both born and raised in Lien Hoa Commune, a Thai ethnic community located 50 km from the Van Ho District centre. Many households in their community live in or are vulnerable to poverty.  Like many other families in the area, Mrs Tuyen’s family grew maize and cassava, with an average annual income of less than VND 20 million per hectare. During a visit home to see their children and parents in 2017, the couple met staff from the Vinafi Company who were in Lien Hoa to survey soil and climate conditions and prepare a ramie production area. The couple’s interest in growing ramie was sparked, and they decided to pilot ramie on 2,000 square metres of land normally used to produce maize and cassava. After a year, they enjoyed profitable returns. They produced 180-200 kilograms of dried ramie which fetched an average price of VND 40,000 per kilogram. This translated into VND 40 million for the ramie grown on their land area of 2,000 square metres, four times higher than the income they earned from maize and cassava. The couple not only profited from their ramie trial, but Mrs Tuyen was also offered a contract with Vinafi to play a lead role in mobilising other farmers in Lien Hoa and Song Khua communes to take-up ramie production and sell their produce back to Vinafi.

Ramie field in Son La

Mrs Tuyen worked to encourage farmers in Lien Hoa commune to shift from maize and cassava to ramie production. As ramie was a new crop, and local understanding of how to grow and tend ramie was limited, uptake was not high. At the end of 2018, only six households had planted ramie on a combined area of four hectares in Lien Hoa Commune.

In 2019, the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program began a project focused on developing the ramie industry in Moc Chau and Van Ho districts, with a particular focus on the economic participation and empowerment of women. GREAT partnered with Vinafi and the Crop and Plant Protection Sub-Department within the Son La Provincial Government’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and began working on increasing ramie production, involving women, and linking ramie farmers to markets. Mrs Tuyen and her husband, together with other farmers joined the GREAT project and were trained on how to sow, grow, tend to (cut, water and apply fertiliser), harvest and semi-process ramie. Vinafi supported farmers with the inputs (such as seeds and fertiliser) and machinery needed to plant the ramie crops. Vinafi then bought the ramie from the farmers at a pre-agreed and stable price.  The couple decided to shift one more hectare of land to ramie cultivation, and the results exceeded their expectations. Instead of harvesting four crops of ramie per year, they could harvest five times per year and each harvest produced 1,200 kilograms of dry ramie on 1.2 hectares of production land. After deducting all up-front investment costs, the couple earned VND 220 million per year from ramie production.

Mrs Tuyen and Mr Dinh taking care of ramie

With increased income from ramie cultivation, Mrs Tuyen and Mr Dinh’s could afford to undertake repairs on their home, buy a motorbike and purchase additional land.  

“Replacing maize and cassava with ramie was the best decision we have made. We now do not have to move away from home for work, and we have more time to care for our children,” said Mrs Tuyen.  

In addition to technical training for farmers on how best to tend to ramie crops, the GREAT supported project organised workshops, meetings and contests so that women could both learn and socialise and connect with each other.

Since 2019, the GREAT partnership with Vinafi has established 13 production groups, conducted training for board members representing nine production groups and provided ToT training (four phases) to the management boards and core farmers.

The partnership has also supported the development of a Ramie Growing and Tending Technical Manual.  To date, more than 932 people have participated in the project, 50% of whom are women with all women from ethnic minorities. The ramie production area across Van Ho and Moc Chau districts has expanded from 70 hectares in 2019 to 281 hectares as of October 2020.

Vinafi has also expanded into Mai Son, Phu Yen, Yen Chau and Sop Cop districts.

“It could be said that ramie has contributed to the poverty reduction and improved food security for villagers in Lien Hoa Commune” said Chairman of the Lien Hoa Commune People’s Committee, Mr Vi Van Luyen.

The couple’s happiness on the day of harvest

Lien Hoa farmers are so happy with the ramie project that they have incorporated the activities into poetry and song. Here is a short excerpt from a poem called “I Love Ramie” written by a member of the Ramie Interest Group in Lien Hoa Commune.

“…Before when growing maize

Not effective, always in debt

Now I am planting ramie

First year benefits made me happy

Later crops got much better

Increased income – everyone happy…”