Aus4EqualityGREAT storiesPlanting organic fruit for a better life

Planting organic fruit for a better life

When visiting the remote commune of Suối Bàng in Vân Hồ District, in Vietnam’s north-western province of Sơn La, people may be astonished to see green orchards on what were once barren hills.

Producing high-value fruit, such as orange and longan, has resulted in a better life for locals, particularly members of the Suối Bàng Agriculture Cooperative.

Smiles light up the faces of the local community.

Many houses are newly built in the area

Fifty-two-year-old Trần Thị Hồng, director of the Suối Bàng Agriculture Cooperative, has made a considerable contribution to these changes.

Ten years ago, locals cultivated maize and edible canna using traditional techniques that, over time, saw the land and soil quality reduced.

Hồng, a tailor in nearby Mộc Châu District, and her husband, an agricultural promotion officer, realised that the area was well-suited to planting fruit trees due to the many upstream water sources.

Together with three founding members of the Cooperative, they fertilised the soil and planted a trial 10 hectares of orange, longan, mango and grapefruit in the villages of Ấm, Pưa Lai and Sôi.

The Cooperative, established in 2016, has since grown to 20 household members who have contributed labour and land to cultivate a total of thirty hectares of fruit trees. The Cooperative ensures up-to-date techniques for the members and the sales of their produce.

The Cooperative now sells up to 30 tonnes of orange and 10 tonnes of longan each year.

Trần Thị Hồng – Director of Suoi Bang Agriculture Cooperative

In 2020, the Cooperative earned an income of VNĐ1,8 billion and in 2021 earned VNĐ2,3 billion. This year, the Cooperative expects an income of VNĐ3 billion, with the extra income to be made from processing dried fruits.

These positive results have been possible due to the support of the Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program, which is funded by the Australian Government.

Lường Thị Vinh is 49 years old and of the Thái ethnic group. She reported that since joining the Cooperative in 2012 her income had improved significantly from the days when she produced maize, sweet potato and cassava.

“Now my family earns VNĐ20-30 million each month,” she said. “My tasks are easier than before. I take care of the fruit trees. I have learnt a lot of advanced techniques from experts to get higher yield without using chemicals.”

Vinh said she highly appreciated Hồng’s efforts to persuade locals to join the Cooperative.

“She has assisted us in every task,” she said. “She is as close as a sister at home. We all trust her.” 

Đinh Thị Thúy Vì, Chairperson of the Commune’s Women Union, has witnessed the change that has occurred in the village.

“The village used to be the poorest in the commune,” she said. “Thanks to the Cooperative and the willingness to shift to planting long-term fruit trees, the lives of the locals, especially for women have improved.”

The GREAT Program has hosted various gender equality awareness-raising activities in the area, which have enhanced local awareness of gender equality issues.

“Many women, who used to be timid, are now active and contribute to social activities, including making the environment cleaner,” Vì said.

Bearing fruit

As a tailor without any business knowledge, things did not go smoothly at first for Hồng.

“I have only a strong will to earn money and help others to improve their lives,” she said. “I’m lucky to have my husband by me as a technical consultant for the Cooperative.”

“The GREAT Program offered me skills in business management, leadership, accounting software and, more importantly, connected me with potential customers.”

“I gained confidence in communicating with partners, product marketing and assigning tasks to other members,” she said.

Hồng said she has also learned how to divide her time between her family and business.

In the last year, the GREAT Program supported the Cooperative to install a 30 cubic metre refrigerated warehouse, which can store up to five tonnes of fruit.

“The warehouse has helped us to keep the produce longer, providing more opportunity for us to sell our produce,” Hồng said.

Though his wife now has less time for family, Đậu Ngọc Bảo, 54, Hồng’s husband, has wholeheartedly supported her.

“Women have a softer approach to persuade and discuss so they sometimes manage better than men,” he noted. “I’m proud of my wife. She’s more suitable than me for the director position.”  

Mr Bao and Ms Hong work together on their orange garden

Hồng’s biggest concern now is the knowledge of local producers.

“They really need someone to guide them,” she said. “Experts from the GREAT Program can help us to bridge that gap.”

In the next year, Hồng wants to process bamboo in addition to fruit as the surrounding areas have previously been used for planting bamboo.

“We will focus on planting off-season oranges to get a higher price,” she said. “We may add more herbal plants at the root of the orange trees to increase our income.”

Hồng said they will continue to use chemical-free fertiliser for the trees to maintain the nutrition in the soil.

“If we use chemicals, we may have better harvests, but we will harm the environment,” she said. “We may not leave money for our children and grandchildren when we pass away. We can leave behind a clean environment and fertile land instead, which is more valuable.”