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Smarter Vegetables

Farming communities in Moc Chau District, Son La Province, Vietnam are seeking technological options to grow vegetables in a way that does not negatively impact the health of farmers, their families or the environment.

Healthy vegetable crops that are protected from pests or disease are crucial to the livelihoods of farmers and the food security of their families and wider communities, but this needs to be done in a way that is safe for farmers, consumers and the environment. Farmers are also faced with crop damage caused by hail and heavy rain, particularly between March and September. All of these challenges impact vegetable productivity and appearance, especially for leafy vegetables.

To address these challenges, a project was implemented via a partnership between the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program and the Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute (FAVRI). The project is focused on improving production, post-harvest management and distribution for flowers, fruits and vegetables in Moc Chau and Van Ho districts.

To reduce the harmful impacts of chemical pesticides, the project promotes the use of Passlite, a material made from Spunbond nonwoven fabric and polyester synthetic fibre, which was first used in Japan 30 years ago. Passlite allows vegetables to grow without chemicals other than a single spray prior to sowing. One application of fertiliser is also needed prior to sowing and there needs to be enough humidity for the leafy vegetables to grow well. The covering also helps protect vegetables from being damaged by heavy showers and hail, leading to larger vegetable harvests.

Passlite covering technology in growing vegetables in Moc Chau district

The harvest time of leafy vegetables when using Passlite is around 27 to 30 days after sowing, which is three to five days shorter than traditional methods. The production of vegetables grown with Passlite increases from approximately 15-16 tonnes per hectare, to 18-20 tonnes per hectare.

Nguyen Thi Dao, a 52-year-old woman from Moc Chau District who participated in the project found Passlite to be a much better crop management method than those she had applied before. With her vegetables looking healthy and grown in a safer way, Mrs Dao can now sell them at around VND 12,000 per kilogram, compared to the price of vegetables grown without Passlite, which is around VND 10,000 per kilogram.

The Passlite covering can be re-used three to five times, reducing depreciation costs. It also means Mrs Dao does not have to apply fertilisers regularly or weed the planting area, which reduces her labour burden. Before using Passlite, she would spray a chemical pesticide every five to seven days, with the risk of exceeding the safe thresholds for chemical residues, resulting in potentially unsafe vegetables.

“I noticed a clear difference. I sowed the same type of mustard green vegetable seeds on the same day, I saw that vegetables in the rows covered by Passlite grew better with sleek and smooth leaves. Meanwhile those in the rows not covered by Passlite suffered from insects and worms, were stunted and grew slowly,” Mrs Dao said

Mrs Dao has also received frequent, on-site technical support and guidance and the necessary materials from FAVRI staff to improve her leafy vegetable production. She has also shared her experience with many other farming households within and outside the commune who visited her farm as part of a study tour.

FAVRI staff is providing technical guidance to Mrs Dao

In Muong Sang Commune there is over 100 hectares of leafy vegetable land production area, involving 80 farming households who mostly produce outdoor vegetables such as leaf mustards (cải canh), lettuce and onion. After Mrs Dao implemented the Passlite model, ten households from An Thai Village in the Commune and four households from Moc Chau Farm Town and Phieng Luong and Tan Lap communes paid a visit to her farm to learn from her experience. They then applied what they learned on an area of over 7,000 square meters. These households purchased Passlite coverings on the recommendation of FAVRI staff.

“Thanks to the project’s support, I now know that producing safe vegetables means limiting the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers,” said Mrs. Dao.

“Previously, after spraying chemicals, I was so tired and suffered headaches, and the insects that help our crops, such as ladybugs and frogs were also killed. The land was exhausted and the underground water was polluted. Now when I sell my vegetables at the market, buyers are assured that my vegetables are safe. They can eat and feel safe and the vegetables are delicious, so they keep coming back to buy my products,” Mrs Dao said.