Vu Lan Huong

Women’s Economic Empowerment Specialist, CARE in Vietnam

I received an email with the title “Thank you!” from Mr. Dam, Director of the Hop Thanh Thanh Van Cooperative (Cho Moi commune, Bac Kan province) in November 2019. He had good news to share. The Cooperative had won a financial support of 429 million VND (approximately 18.400 USD) from the national competition “Searching for value chain ideas among ethnic minority communities in Vietnam” just one month earlier. This big sum of money would definitely be useful for the Cooperative’s capacity building and business plan implementation. And above all, the reward proved that all untiring efforts of the whole team ultimately paid off.

Thanks to the Cooperative’s support, locals in Bac Kan have successfully applied new technologies in cultivating banana trees according to VietGAP standards. Photo: Hop Thanh Thanh Van Cooperative

The shaping of a common dream

When our car stopped at the end of the slope to Thanh Van commune’s People’s Committee office (Cho Moi district), I realised a small but concrete workshop with a blue corrugated iron roof and white walls in the centre of the commune’s marketplace. The workshop had just been built by the 15 Cooperative’s members. Finally, the big plan that the Cooperative had pursued for months turned into reality.

This workshop is a long-standing dream of the Cooperative. In the past, the Cooperative’s member found it difficult to showcase potential customers their products while they did not have their own work place. Now things have changed.

Stepping inside the workshop, I saw Mr. Dam cleaning up and examining banana drying machines. The others were at home, taking their lunch break. He took me around and proudly introduced me different areas of the workshop, from the storehouse, the dried banana and banana vinegar processing area to the showroom. Pointing to a small room at the right side of the workshop, he said: “You see, this is the Director’s room. [It’s] small but decent for business discussions. Although our workshop is small, we are able to ensure food safety and hygiene”.

In the storehouse, hundreds of boxes labelled with addresses of recipients from Cao Bang, Thai Nguyen to Hanoi, etc… were ready to be sent to the northern provinces through 25 distribution channels working with the Cooperative. I still remember it was close to the Tet holiday 2020, the peak season of the year for sales and product preparation. Despite being busy, everyone seemed to be really happy. I can feel it in the way they talked.

Fresh bananas of the local farmers are bought by the Cooperative for processing. Photo: Hop Thanh Thanh Van Cooperative

The Cooperative’s business result has been better day by day. In the fourth quarter of 2019, they sold more than a ton of dried banana, 500kg of banana chips and almost 10 tons of fresh banana, which brought about over 150 million VND (approximately 6.500 USD). Moreover, the local farmers sold fresh banana to the Cooperative at a higher price than to other traders, and higher than the previous year’s price from 1.000 to 2.000 VND/kg.

Besides, the Cooperative also improved the quality of dried banana products and collaborated with food technology experts to develop high-quality products with the most saving costs. Regarding the dried banana processing, members like Mrs. Quy, Mrs. Thoa and Mrs. Dien could talk endlessly with me about how they could keep dried bananas chewy and still juicy. They explained to me the significance of the accuracy in the product’s thickness and processing time to ensure the quality consistency. “This is definitely a scientific subject, which isn’t as simple as I supposed,” I thought to myself while listening to the Tay women talking so confidently and enthusiastically about bananas.

Inspiration for CARE

These achievements truly motivated the Cooperative and us, the teams at CARE International in Vietnam and Agriculture and Forestry Research & Development for Mountainous Region (ADC) Centre who take part in the “Women’s Economic Empowerment through Agricultural Value Chain Enhancement” (WEAVE) project funded by the Australian Government. We know that we are on the right track when supporting the Cooperative participating in various events, exhibitions, and different competitions such as OCOP (i.e. the One Commune, One Product programme) or the national competition “Searching for value chain ideas among ethnic minority communities in Vietnam”. In 2019, the number of events, in which members of the Cooperative took part, reached 15, including trade fairs and exhibitions. They also did their own market research with many supermarkets, shop chains, and schools.

After conducting market research with Mr. Kien’s group [i.e. the expert consultants], I have learned a lot. Like how to set up a meeting with potential partners; the second is how to prepare the necessary documents and products for the meeting; thirdly, how to talk with the partners. In general, I now feel more confident to approach my target customers

Ha Duc Dam
Products from the Cooperative are displayed at a trade fair. Photo: Hop Thanh Thanh Van Cooperative

Furthermore, by directly getting involved in organising their own booths at events, the members like Mrs. Quy, Mrs. Vu, and Mr. Dam now are well familiar with setting up a booth, assigning tasks, or selecting and packaging the products. Only when they have such practical experiences can they sharpen their skills and draw lessons for themselves.

After the field trip, I was filled with faith, happiness, and delight. The Hop Thanh Thanh Van Cooperative in particular, and the ethnic minority people in general, own themselves tremendous inner force, passion, and enthusiasm. By spending more time listening to and learning from them, to encourage and support them at the right time and in the right way, the “good fruits” will come for sure.

The Women’s Economic Empowerment through Agricultural Value Chain Enhancement (WEAVE) project is funded by the Australian Government and implemented via the partnership of three international non-governmental organisations – CARE International in Vietnam, Oxfam in Vietnam and SNV in Vietnam. WEAVE supports ethnic minority women’s economic empowerment in pork, cinnamon value chains in Lao Cai province and banana value chain in Bac Kan province. This will be achieved by promoting equality between women and men within households and producer groups, strengthening women and men producers’ skills and bargaining power, and working with business and government decision-makers to improve the policy environment to support producers.