Aus4EqualitySuccess storiesThe proud women tea growers of Ban Lien Commune

The proud women tea growers of Ban Lien Commune

Vang Thi Van is an ethnic Tay woman from Ban Lien Commune, Bac Ha District in Vietnam’s Lao Cai Province. Like many women in her village, Mrs Van has had limited education (she studied until Grade 9) and is expected to assume all household chores and farm work in her family.

In Mrs Van’s Village, women typically move out of their family home to live with their husband’s family once married. Once Mrs Van moved in with her husband’s family, she began working in the fields before the sun rose and in the evening she would take care of the chicken, pigs and cattle.

Mrs Van worked constantly, and anything she earned would be directed towards household expenses.

In addition to taking care of the fields and gardens, cooking and child care, Mrs Van also looks after her grandmother who is over 80 years old.

As almost all of Mrs Van’s time and that of other women like her in the community is devoted to unpaid care and domestic as well as underpaid subsistence agriculture, they have little time to invest in developing their potential to earn a decent income, support their families and become financially independent. The unequal share of the care, domestic and agricultural work can also place significant stress on women’s health and wellbeing.

In June 2020, Mrs Van joined a project implemented via a partnership between the Australian Government-funded Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program and Helvetas Vietnam. The project is focused on women’s economic empowerment through growing and harvesting medicinal plants intercropped with Shan Tea. Mrs Van identifies joining this project as a turning point in her life.

Through the project, Mrs Van has learned about the production of organic Shan Tea, household expenditure management, and ways to encourage the more equal sharing of household chores with her husband.

The project has linked Mrs Van and other tea farmers to Ban Lien Tea Cooperative, which supports farmers in the organic production of tea and then purchases the tea that meets the required standards. The tea is exported to Europe, the United States and Japan. Local authorities also selected the tea to be supported through Vietnam’s One Commune, One Product (OCOP) Program.

All of Mrs Van’s tea is procured by the Lien Village Tea Cooperative.

Currently, approximately 400 households (including 350 Tay ethnic women) are selling tea to Ban Lien Tea Cooperative. Each year they harvest an average of four crops, earning VND15-20 million per year, compared to the past price of VND10,000/kg.

Mrs Van like other members of her farmers’ group are now knowledgeable about the cultivation of organic Shan Tea. She does not use chemicals, she understands how to inter-crop tea to optimise land productivity, and she is practised in pruning and shaping tea plants to ensure a broader crown and healthy buds. The tea gardens in Ban Lien are now producing 20 per cent more tea than previously.

Mrs Van has three hectares of Shan Tea plantation and harvests one tonne of tea annually. With a stable buyer in the Ban Lien Tea Cooperative, Mrs Van’s family enjoys a more secure income and are now even able to put some savings aside.

“Our production group includes 41 members who do everything together, so we are all much more self-confident. The whole group keeps moving from one household to another, after finishing harvesting in one household’s garden, we move to the next household, in a very quick, effective manner, with much fun,” Mrs Van explained.

The project has also influenced the sharing of household chores between Mrs Van and her husband who has begun to help more at home so that Mrs Van could attend training and support other tea-growing households. He was invited to attend training sessions with his wife along with other couples. Mrs Van reported that previously her husband did not do any housework, but now he was helping her to cook, wash dishes and do the laundry.

Van showed her two winning pictures for the Photovoice contest held by the GREAT Project.

“Now my parents and my husband are very proud of me. The relationship with our neighbours has also improved, we are all united and share with each other. It’s also easier for me to balance farm work and Women’s Union responsibilities as they all trust me” said Mrs Van.