Food safety is a key public concern in Vietnam. Incidents of food contamination and foodborne illness have diminished consumer trust in food quality. It has also increase mistrust between the value chain actors, with particularly negative consequences for smallholder farmers.
A group of organizations in Vietnam has set about trying to improve the situation. The Belgium Embassy, Hanoi University for Public Health (HUPH), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) teamed up together on the HUPH campus to co-host a workshop on ‘Scaling up the trust networks for food safety with small farmers’ on 4 July 2017.
The workshop sought to cultivate food safety knowledge and explore existing and potential supports for safe food supply networks to empower smallholders to take steps to deal with the consequences of falling consumer confidence. Eighty participants from state agencies, research academia, universities, food safety agencies, international organizations, donors, agriculture producers, retailers, consumers and the media sat together to foster trust among relevant stakeholders.
In her opening remarks, Bui Thi Thu Ha, HUPH rector highlighted how globalization and rising competition are putting pressure on smallholders to ensure the quality of their products meet the increasingly stringent market standards.
This trend has been hasten by a shift in shopping habits–particularly by the emerging middle class—from traditional markets to supermarkets and utility shops in search of safer and best quality food, according to Nguyen Trung Kien of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development. In fact, the number of supermarkets in Vietnam has mushroomed over the last 10 years, rising from 47 in 2007 to 1,035 in 2017.
However, smallholder farmer seeking to increase food standards are fraught with obstacles. While small-scale farmers are increasingly required to obtain quality assurance to sell their products to more demanding customers—said Vo Thanh Son senior rural development expert at the World Bank—agricultural standards are often designed for big producers. For instance, smallholders experience difficulties accessing inputs as feed companies prefer to provide supply large-scale farms. Moreover, their limited access to information technology also hinders their ability to access market information.
Focusing on solutions for farmers, grassroots representatives at the event showcased some good models design to enhance consumer trust in smallholder products, such as the participatory guarantee system for safe vegetables production (PGS). PGS is a quality control system developed by International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. A range of stakeholders—particularly producers and consumers—are involved to guarantee the quality of the food. PGS is affordable and applicable for smallholders and reliable for consumers.
Hung Nguyen, regional representative of ILRI East and Southeast Asia stressed that Vietnam needs consider if it should follow suit developed countries on the path of developing supermarkets and gradually abolishing the traditional market model, or it should strengthen smallholders and traditional markets while moving forward with supermarketization and large scale production.
In her closing remarks, Ambassador of Belgium, Jehanne Roccas said “I am convinced that small farmers in Vietnam are part of the core Vietnamese identity and food culture. If they get the right support, they form a perfect fit with the industrial revolution 4.0. The diversity and flexibility of small farmers makes them a perfect match to the world of fast changing markets, traceability and trust networks based on farm and field identification.”
The workshop was made possible by the efforts of the Vietnam Food Safety Working Group, which includes representatives from the Belgian and Canadian embassies in Vietnam, the Australian government, FAO, HUPH, ILRI, and the World Bank, among other partners.
This workshop topic was selected from one of the recommendations from the World Bank report, Vietnam food safety risks management: challenges and opportunities by the World Bank launched earlier this year.
Visit ILRI Flickr to see more photos of the workshop.
See a related article on the launching of the World Bank report.