Organic Cinnamon Production Changes Lives
Posted on 21/07/2021
Bac Ha is a mountainous district situated in the north-east of Lao Cai Province, with 83% of population from ethnic minority groups. The number of poor households account for 28% percent of the District’s population.
Cinnamon offers great potential for income and employment generation, particularly for ethnic communities and women in Bac Ha District in Lao Cai Province, due to a combination of the growing conditions in Vietnam’s north-west region and significant domestic and international demand. Between 75 and 80% of local farmer income comes from cinnamon with the remaining income being generated through rice, maize and cassava production. Women play a central role in cinnamon farming and are involved in all stages of production in this region. Generations of farmers in Nam Det Commune in Bac Ha District have grown cinnamon and production techniques have remained largely unchanged. There has been limited investment in, or progress made in cinnamon cultivation and harvesting techniques. An awareness of potential higher end markets (such as export markets) and the required standards is also limited. Cinnamon is typically produced and sold locally and, due to the varied quality of the harvests and a lack of connection to buyers, the prices are often low and variable (between VND18,000 and 20,000 per kg).
In 2019, Son Ha Spice and Flavorings Company (Son Ha) partnered with the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the Lao Cai Agricultural Extension Center to develop the cinnamon value chain and surrounding market system in Nam Det Commune. The partners are focused on the production and sale of high-value organic cinnamon through improved cultivation, production and processing techniques and stronger connections of farmers, including women farmers, to high-end markets. The development of a sustainable cinnamon value chain represents a vehicle for women’s economic empowerment. GREAT is co-investing to support Son Ha’s efforts to strengthen cinnamon production and sales and to ensure changes are systemic and sustainable. The GREAT Program also facilitates relationships and input between local government, NGOs and local cinnamon enterprises.
This partnership began with a survey and internal assessment conducted by Son Ha followed by the selection of more than 300 households to participate in training on organic cinnamon cultivation practices. This training covered tending the plants, harvesting and preservation. A key outcome of the training was an increased awareness among farmers of the risks posed by chemicals, such as pesticides, to human and environmental health. The farmers subsequently stopped using chemicals on their farms and shifted to more environmentally friendly methods.
In October 2019, 334 households working across a combined 1,293 ha of cinnamon production area received EU and USDA Organic Certification accreditation. This certification means farmers can now sell their cinnamon at a higher and more stable price and farmers in Nam Det Commune began recording sales prices of up to VND 28,000 per kg.
Son Ha established agreements with Nam Det farmers to purchase their cinnamon if quality standards were met. At the beginning of 2021, the Company had purchased 3,500 tonnes of cinnamon from the farmers at a total cost of VND 95 billion.
In addition to buying the cinnamon, Son Ha offers a bonus to farmers who follow the organic cultivation principles. As of the beginning of 2021, VND 550 million in bonuses had been paid to members of the organic cinnamon supply chain in Nam Det Commune, with VND 400 million being paid to the farmers and VND 150 million to collection agents.
Before the project, selling cinnamon was not easy in Nam Det. The mountainous terrain and poor road conditions with few collection/purchase points meant farmers had to travel nearly 30 km to a collection point. This posed an especially significant barrier for female farmers who have little time to spare and do not always feel safe travelling such distances. Many farmers could not bring their cinnamon on the day it was harvested which meant the cinnamon was not as fresh and resulted in poorer quality when it was sold.
To address this, Son Ha focused on developing a collection and procurement network. To date, the Company has 37 purchase agents (including 19 women), both large and small, in different villages. All of its purchase agents were trained in procurement methods, the Company’s quality standards and in product classification according to the standards.
“We feel very secure when selling our products to Son Ha Company. After handing over the products, we get paid immediately. There is no delay in payment.” said purchase agent, Mrs. Tran Thu Ha.
GREAT has worked with Son Ha and the other partners to establish a community-based monitoring system which links benefits to responsibilities to assure farmer compliance with organic production principles.
Mrs Trieu Thi Khe is a member of Nam Det Group and explained how this monitoring system works.
“My household so far has received a bonus four times at the value of more than VND 7 million. Now our group members are very careful and we follow the principles of cinnamon production without needing to be monitored or reminded by the Son Ha field staff. We now monitor each other as we know that if we do not follow the organic production principles, we will not get the bonus, and our cinnamon will not be certified which would mean we cannot sell it, or we can only sell at a cheap price”.
In addition to training in cultivation skills, experts from Son Ha Company have facilitated discussions on gender equality with the farmers, which has helped many men be a little more active in assisting their wives in housework.
“Local women like me have been supported to have more time to join social activities,” Mrs Khe said. “We are now more confident to raise our voices in public meetings.”
The Communist Party Secretary of Ban Lap Village in Nam Det Commune, Mr Trieu A Son, shared his impressions of the cinnamon project.
“Before the project came, cinnamon was not valued as high in the market as it is now. Now the farmers feel secure when producing cinnamon – our cinnamon has a brand and the company buys the products right on our land, so the farmers are very happy”.
After almost two years, Son Ha has developed a sustainable cinnamon value chain that meets the export standards of high-end markets, including the USA, EU and Japan. More and more cinnamon-growing households are wanting to become involved. In response, the Company has expanded the project to two adjacent communes (Ban Cai and Nam Luc) involving 356 more households and an additional 924 ha of production area. This has increased Son Ha’s total organic cinnamon production area in Bac Ha District to approximately 2,200 ha.