Selfhelp farmers’ group raise ethnic incomes

About four years ago, Vi Thi Thanh heard about a training project designed to empower ethnic minority residents in her district, an impoverished area located in the Central Highlands province of Đak Nong.

Vi Thi Thanh (right), 41, head of Đak RMang Commune’s Binh Phu Group, shows group member Lan Thi Loan how to recognise and treat a disease that affects coffee trees.e district’s farmers have created so many initiatives to help each other and to develop the district’s economy.” – VNS Photo Gia Loc

Thanh, 41, who is ethnic Thai, had moved to Đak Glong District from the southeastern province of Binh Phuoc in 2007.

With a four-hectare farm, she began growing coffee trees in Đak R’Mang Commune but with little experience, Thanh was able to produce only one to two tonnes of beans per hectare.

Then, in 2012, she began taking part in the Binh Phu Group, which is part of a training project in the district. She learned about coffee cultivation through field trips and training workshops.

“The trips (to see agricultural models) and workshops helped me get close to other farmers and become more confident about asking questions,” Thanh said.

The farmers learned about proper nutrition for coffee trees and how to treat diseases.

“One of the most important things I learned was how to properly use chemicals to kill insects,” she said.

To raise productivity, Thanh also changed to a new processing and harvesting method, and began to harvest ripe instead of unripe coffee fruit.

Productivity on Thanh’s farm has doubled since 2013.

The members of her Binh Phu Group are now setting their sights on a 4C certificate, which is awarded to coffee growers who meet baseline criteria for sustainable production, processing and trading of green coffee, and who eliminate unacceptable practices.

Thanh said she was also successful in persuading members of another agricultural project, called 3EM, to provide her group with five coffee processing machines, free of charge.

“I am now more knowledgeable, and I’m proud that I have the confidence to do what I want,” Thanh said.

Besides cultivating coffee, Thanh also began raising 300 chickens after learning how to protect them from disease by consulting other farmers.

She sells the chickens to a company in District 12.

All the chickens have been vaccinated, and their coop is cleaned frequently.

“My chickens are not injected with any medicine, and they’ve grown quickly and gained weight. The injections could affect consumers’ health,” Thanh said.

In November last year, she made a profit of VND10 million (US$448) selling the chickens, and she is now raising 500 chickens.

Seven households in and outsite her farmers’ group have followed her lead and are now raising a total of 1,800 chickens.

Mai Văn Tung, deputy head of the district’s Agricultural and Rural Development Division, said that the farmers’ groups were different from other projects as the members had voluntarily set up their groups with the same interests.

The farmers share expertise and also decide when they need to seek outside help, while at the same time, check market prices on the internet and travel to other provinces to buy seedlings.

“We have seen their income increase three or four times,” Tung said.

The project, which includes 13 groups of farmers, is co-ordinated by the Đak Glong District’s Agricultural and Rural Development Division, Farmers Union and the Centre for Community Empowerment (CECEM), a capacity-building organisation based in Ha Noi.

Covering 145,000 hectares, the district, whose residents are mostly ethnic minorities, remains underdeveloped even though it has favourable weather and abundant resources.

The poverty rate is 62.65 per cent of 13,178 households, according to Lê Quang Dan, vice chairman of the district’s People’s Committee.

The farmer’s co-operative project, which began in November 2013, will end in October this year.

“I believe these farmers’ groups will continue to help develop the economy of their communes and the district,” Tung said.

Funds for farmers

Members of the farmers’ groups in the district that are part of the project also provide low- or zero-interest loans for their disadvantaged members.

For instance, Nguyen Trong Thuong, head of the Tan Tien co-operative group, said that they voluntarily donated money to farmers so they could till their fields and orchards on the mountain slopes.

The two most disadvantaged households in his group have received loans to raise goats.

The Binh Phu Group of which Thanh is the head has used its funds to provide loans to farmers who raise poultry and cultivate pepper.

Lan Thi Loan, a member of the Binh Phu Group, said that her income rose thanks to the loan worth VND7.8 million ($347) to grow pepper.

Members of another group, Thanh Cong Group, have used their loans to buy coffee seedlings. Many members now have at least one hectare of coffee besides cassava and sorghum, which were their main plants in the past.

Dan, vice chairman of the district People’s Committee, said: “I’m very pleased that the district’s farmers have created so many initiatives to help each other and to develop the district’s economy.”

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