By Ngoc Thuy – Translated by Dan Thuy
“The first day I went up the hill to pick up the soil, when I finished, I looked back and found that my field was the most slanted. At that time, I just wanted to find a hole in the ground to hide from embarrassment,” Cao Khue said.
At the age of 25, Nguyen Cao Khue (born 1996, Son Tay district, Hanoi) is the owner of an orange and pomelo farm in Hoa Binh. The 32.9-hectare farm was leased back by Khue for 15 years to grow fruit trees.
Depending on the time and nature of the work, there are about 8-20 employees working on the farm. In addition, Khue also opened an office in Hanoi with five employees to handle orders for oranges and pomelo. Their revenue in 2019-2020 was more than VND2 billion.
The first setbacks
Nguyen Cao Khue
Khue started a business when he was a sophomore at Hanoi Foreign Trade University. The first time he started, Khue failed with the model of selling bread.
“After that, people talked a lot about dirty food. Customers had money but did not know where to buy clean food. Wanting to create such clean products, in the summer of 2015, my father and I rented some land in Hoa Binh to grow organic fruits and vegetables,” Khue said. But once again, his efforts did not bear fruit.
According to Khue, between 2012 and 2015, many people flocked to Cao Phong, Hoa Binh to rent land to plant oranges and pomelo.
“There are many Hanoi giants coming up here to grow oranges following the trend. But most of them spend money to hire other people to do the work.
“But a shared property is no one’s property, and money spent will not be effective. A few years later, the trees were weak, the productivity was not good, the soil was depleted, hardened”, Khue said.
Khue and father also made the same mistake. At that time, they only went to the farm on weekends, and the rest was “contracted” to employees to develop orange orchards.
“I am the owner of the garden but do not understand nutrients, etc. If I entrusted everything to others, failure is easy. Within three years, my father and I lost about 10 billion VND with costs of seedlings, agricultural materials, investment in roads, machinery…”.
But he was determined to re-start. In August 2017, Khue graduated from university. At this point, his father gave up the right to take over the entire farm.
To the farm owner billions of revenues
Orange from the farm of Cao Khue.
The first thing Khue did was to learn all the knowledge and skills to take care of orange trees. He looked for foreign documents from leading countries in organic agriculture such as the Netherland, America. Studying alone in his car, he wandered around Hung Yen, Hoa Binh, Bac Giang in search of trees.
Anywhere there were good orange and grapefruit gardens, Khue wanted to come and learn. “Each place, I amassed a little experience, compared with the material in the book. Gradually it took one year and I had the necessary knowledge about trees.”
After that, the Hanoi man tried to develop a complete production process for the tree. Instead of using artificial fertilizers, Khue planted grass and composted organic fertilizer.
“This is a natural form of agriculture, we take advantage of grass, and compost into manure to provide nutrients for plants. As a result, the plant’s resistance is higher and the lifespan of the plant is also longer.”
Instead of hiring people as before, this time the gentleman of the city went to work with the farmers.
“With the farmer, we cannot talk about theory. They only respect when we can do better than them. Only then can people respect and listen to me,” said Khue.
“The first day I went up, people were planting grass and then composting it to make compost. We had to hoe soil, create beds on the hill. When it was finished, out of 10 beds, nine were straight, and one crooked. I just wanted to find a crack on the ground and get under it so I wouldn’t be ashamed because I was notorious for being the owner, but made the worst,” recalled Khue.
When there were products, Cao Khue continued to build a sales team, building marketing, brands. He finally started to receive good feedback on his products.
“A French client tasted our oranges and said that this orange flavor is similar to the old oranges in France he used to eat. He also said that in France they had a habit of drinking orange juice in the morning.
“Since coming to Vietnam, he had not found such delicious oranges, so he lost that habit. After trying it, he said the taste was great and he felt right at home. Now, he has become a regular customer of us,” he said.
One orange crop lasts four months, the rest eight months. The trees are very weak before bearing fruit. After harvesting, the gardener has to resuscitate the tree. If so, the next season will produce a good yield.
“Many people only care about productivity. The plants are weak, and they apply chemical fertilizers again, but doing so is abusing the health of the plants. An unhealthy, happy tree will not produce delicious fruit,” Khue said.
Currently, Khue is also holding more tours for guests to experience the garden. “Customers who come directly to the garden hear stories about orange trees. They will better understand the product and the enthusiasm of the planter,” he said.
Khue shared his feelings when “leaving the street to the garden”:
“How could I like it when I’m dressed in plain clothes, a top school student suddenly exiled to the forest up the mountain. I always had to work in the state of ‘head on the ground, with feet kicking the ground’, and stay with people who do not speak Vietnamese.”
However, that was only the story of the first three years. Currently, Khue said he is being passionate about the job and that “for a long time, I did not have time for myself”.
According to the Vietnam Organic Agriculture Association, the development rate of organic farming is increasing. In 2017, the country had about 76,000 hectares of organic agriculture, by 2020, this figure increased by more than 415,000 hectares. However, organic and natural products have extremely high-cost prices, unattractive appearance, and poor color, but the nutrition and quality are higher in return.
Ms. Tran Thi Tuyen, who grows orange following natural agriculture in Nghe An Province for more than two years, said that when she first started growing orange, many local farmers assessed that her orange trees would not develop. Because all other farmers fertilize, mow grass, and spray pesticides on their orange groves whereas none of those is applied on hers. She shared that the grass layer is the habitat for insects, and natural enemies create a natural balance without harming the orange trees. Besides, the fallen oranges do not need to be removed, but to leave them decomposing themselves and becoming nutrients for orange trees. Although the productivity is not high compared to other orange groves, in return, it helps her reduce the cost of pesticides.
With an extremely large growing area of organic coffee, Mr. Thai Nhu Hiep, Director of Vinh Hiep Co., Ltd., acknowledged that organic products are an inevitable trend for sustainable agricultural development. In Vietnam, organic and natural agriculture still encounters many limitations. On the one hand, farmers do not have techniques for large-scale production. On the other hand, the number of fertilizers and bio-products for organic farming remains small and at a high cost. Similarly, Mr. Le Van Toan, Manager of tropical vegetable production at Organica Farm in District 2 in Ho Chi Minh City, said that the organic production model is mainly small, weak chain linking, and high costs so it is unable to be expanded. To reduce costs, farmers need to adopt sustainable farming and ranching models to make use of by-products.
In fact, many stores advertise their products as organic to sell them at high prices, but their quality is still in doubt. Mr. Nguyen Dinh Tung, Director of Vina T&T Group Company, said that many shops sell organic food with various international organic certifications, making it difficult for authorities to supervise. Therefore, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) needs to develop Vietnamese organic certification with the same standards as foreign ones so that people can participate in production and export. At the same time, there should be measures to manage stores selling self-proclaimed organic products.
Supporting to reduce costs
According to the MARD, the global consumption market of organic products has grown steadily, with an estimated scale of more than US$80 billion per year. Consumers in developed countries, such as the US, Japan, and the EU, are now very fond of organic products not only because of their superiority in health protection but also because of their contribution to the protection of the ecological environment and minimization of impacts of climate change. Therefore, the export potential for organic agricultural products remains tremendous. In recent years, the biotechnology industry has developed strongly and widely applied to meet the requirements of organic agriculture. Mr. Tran Thanh Nam, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, shared that Vietnam has a plentiful workforce. Practical experience and creativity in agricultural production are great advantages for developing organic agriculture, which is labor-intensive. For organic agriculture to develop sustainably, the agricultural sector needs to choose suitable growing areas and prioritize the development of local specialties.
In fact, there are still many natural agriculture models that do not have organic certification, making consumption difficult. Along with that, many stores also mix substandard products with organic products. There are even cases in which they have already got organic certifications, but later on, the production does not meet the standards. Mr. Ha Phuc Mich, Chairman of the Vietnam Organic Agriculture Association, said that the MARD has built a project to develop organic agriculture and an action plan. The area of organic agriculture is growing without substance and is difficult to control. Human resource training for many years has not had the policy of accessing organic agricultural materials from all levels. Therefore, the ministry is actively implementing the organic agriculture development project for the 2020-2030 period, with the goal that the area of organic agriculture will reach 1.5-2 percent of the total agricultural area by 2025, and 2.5-3 percent by 2030.
According to agricultural experts, for organic agriculture to be sustainable, farmers must be trained. The State should strengthen the introduction and construction of distribution networks, and promote trade, and at the same time support units to assess the organic product samples. Moreover, to produce large-scale organic agriculture, it is essential to have professional and qualified supply services for organic farming materials, such as fertilizers, animal feed, herbal pesticides, and bio-products.
By Quy Ngoc – Translated by Thuy Doan
|Forests, soil may not keep pace with CO2 emissions, experts warn, illustration photo|
Climate projections mistakenly assume that land and what grows on it are able to absorb the CO2 humanity loads into the atmosphere, they reported in the journal Nature.
In reality, there’s a trade off.
“Either soil or plants, but not both, will absorb more CO2 as carbon levels rise,” lead author Cesar Terrer, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, told AFP.
It is tempting, he said, to hang hopes on supercharged plant growth and massive tree-planting campaigns to reduce CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels, agriculture and destroying forests.
But researchers said that when elevated carbon dioxide levels boost forest and grassland growth, the accumulation of CO2 in soil slows down.
“Soils store more carbon worldwide than is contained in all plant biomass,” said senior author Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.
So far, Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems have kept pace with rapidly increasing CO2 emissions, consistently absorbing some 30 percent even as those emissions have more than doubled over the last 50 years.
Oceans have also syphoned off a steady 20-odd percent of CO2 pollution during the same period.
Without these natural sponges, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere today might be double preindustrial levels, enough to heat up the planet’s surface by four to six degrees Celsius, according to a new generation of climate models.
With only 1.1C of warming so far, the planet has seen a crescendo of deadly heatwaves, flooding and other extreme weather.
The new study adds to growing evidence that the terrestrial carbon sink is weaker than once thought.
Terrer and colleagues analysed data from more than 100 published experiments on soil carbon levels, plant growth and CO2 concentrations, which have risen by half since pre-industrial times.
– Put the bar higher –
They were surprised by the results.
“It proved much harder than expected to increase both plant growth and carbon soil,” said Jackson.
Researchers found that soils only accumulated more carbon in experiments where plant growth remained fairly steady, despite high levels of CO2 in the air.
The findings highlight a key difference between two types of ecosystem, and suggest that grasslands may turn out to be more important than long assumed when it comes to stocking away carbon.
“In forests, additional CO2 mainly increases above-ground carbon storage,” Terrer explained.
“But the acquisition of additional nutrients needed to fuel plant growth increases soil carbon losses,” cancelling out the benefit.
In grasslands, by contrast, elevated CO2 causes a relatively modest bump in biomass, while loss of carbon from the soil remains low.
“This new paper puts the bar higher for those models to capture the additional complexities of above-ground versus below-ground carbon storage,” said Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project.
“Carbon stored in the soils is probably better long term protected than carbon in plants, which are susceptible to fire and other disturbances,” he told AFP.
In 2019, the same researchers estimated that a doubling of CO2 compared to mid-19th century levels — as expected by the end of this century — will increase plant biomass by only 12 percent, far less than previously predicted.
Other research has warned that forests are losing their effectiveness in mopping up CO2.
In part, that’s because a football pitch of old-growth, primary forest is destroyed every six seconds, releasing CO2 and reducing the areas left for absorbing it.
And beyond a certain temperature threshold the capacity of plants to absorb CO2 also declines, according to a study earlier this year.
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Vinamilk Quang Ngai dairy farm is large-scale with modern technology and has been using a solar power system since the beginning of 2021
Vinamilk, the largest dairy producer of Viet Nam, has recently imported more than 2,100 high-yielding dairy cows from the US, joining its herd at Vinamilk Quang Ngai Farm in the central province of the same name.
Quang Ngai Farm was newly-built over 100 ha, with investment capital of VND700 billion and a scale of 4,000 cows, which are expected to produce 20 million litres of milk per year.
Importing a large number of dairy herds
These newly-imported cows are all purebred dairy cows from Holstein Friesian (HF) registered with the HF American Dairy Association and have complete pedigree information for up to three generations. The herd also has a validated lifetime profitability index (Net Merit) and production performance index (GTPI) certificate issued by designated US laboratories.
According to Vinamilk’s partner in the US, this is a healthy breed with the ability to adapt well to the climatic conditions in Viet Nam. After getting used to the “new house” and having stable health, it is possible to have an average milk yield of over 11,000 litres per head per year. Milk contains many nutrients with high protein and fat content.
The herd, including nearly 700 heifers of various ages and more than 1,400 pregnant cows, is expected to contribute to increasing the farm’s number of cows in the near future. As planned this year, Vinamilk will continue to import additional 3,000 high-yielding dairy cows for its farms in Moc Chau district in the northern province of Hoa Binh and Laos.
Dairy cows are walking in the playground area covered with straw at Vinamilk Quang Ngai Farm.
Solutions to ensure safety for dairy cows
To help the newly-imported cows adapt to the new living environment, Vinamilk has conducted a lot of solutions ensuring requirements for disease prevention at the farm such as: isolated breeding facilities must comply with technical regulations on national veterinary sanitary conditions in quarantine areas; all vehicles transporting cows must be gathered separately and sprayed and disinfected both before and after the cows are loaded. Upon arrival at the farm, the cows are once again checked before entering the quarantined barn. Each individual cow will be sampled for testing according to regulations and vaccinated for diseases according to the regulations of the specialised veterinary agency.
These cows, before joining the existing herd, will have a private residence within 30-45 days and are cared for by a team of experts and farm staff. Employees and workers on the farm will also have to comply with the isolation regulations here. They will be continuously checked and disinfected, and not be allowed to enter other farm areas.
The barn for the cows is equipped with an automatic cooling system, a mattress and a massage broom to help cows feel comfortable and not stressed, meanwhile food is specially prepared to help supplement essential nutrients for them to recover after a long journey.
At Vinamilk’s modern farm, each individual cow will also be monitored 24/7 via electronic chip. With modern technology equipment and software, experts can monitor the operating status and health of cows from a distance through software and mobile applications without having to be present at the farm. As a result, the US partner could not directly work on the farm due to the COVID-19 pandemic but could still coordinate with Vinamilk to give the best care solutions for the cows.
Acting Director of Vinamilk Quang Ngai Dairy Farm Thai Duy Nhat said the import of Vinamilk cows took place successfully, quickly and safely in the condition that all regulations on prevention of COVID-19 have been met. Although the import of cows was more difficult due to the pandemic, with the experience of Vinamilk’s experts as well as the good coordination of the US partners, the dairy herd has basically adapted to their new home safely and healthily after a long journey.
Vinamilk currently owns 12 international-standard farms across the country and one dairy farm complex in Laos, making the firm’s total dairy herd approximately 150,000 heads, supplying over one million litres of raw fresh milk per day. With on-going projects, it is expected that by 2022-23, the herd of cows at Vinamilk’s farms will increase by 20,000 heads, increasing the supply of raw fresh milk to meet production needs.
In parallel to expanding the scale of dairy herds and increasing production, sustainable development is a clear orientation of Vinamilk for the dairy farm system. Factors such as environment, energy and natural resources are priorities. The increase in the use of green and renewable energy sources, the application of circular economic models to optimise operational efficiency while reducing negative impacts on the environment.
The new models, which aim to push up the firm’s strategy on sustainable development, include the application of Biogas technology turning waste into a resource, a cycle of regeneration according to Japanese technology, organic farming and water cycle. In terms of energy, Vinamilk has been deploying the use of solar energy in all 12 dairy farms across the country that are expected to be completed this year. These are specific and practical action programmes that are currently being carried out by Vinamilk to promote according to the general strategy of sustainable development.
Hanoi (VNA) – Two State-owned enterprises will receive a total of nearly 62.92 billion VND (2.72 million USD) in funding for their employment of ethnic minority workers from mountainous and extremely disadvantaged regions in 2018 under a decision of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
The Vietnam Rubber Group ( VRG ) will be given close to 60.64 trillion VND and the Vietnam National Coffee Corporation (VinaCafe) will get nearly 2.28 billion VND from the 2021 central budget in pursuant to Decision 42/2021/QD-TTg dated October 8, 2012 on provision of support for employers of ethnic minority people from mountainous and extremely disadvantaged areas.
The Ministry of Finance was assigned to manage and disburse the funding in line with current regulations.
The move forms part of the government’s efforts to improve livelihoods of ethnic minorities in remote and disadvantaged regions.
Rubber and coffee have been among Vietnam’s key currency earners for years. Last year, the country’s rubber and coffee export value hit 2.4 billion USD and 2.7 billion USD, respectively.
The two agricultural products are largely grown in the northern mountainous, Central Highlands and Southeast regions which are endowed with nutrient-rich red basalt soil. The regions are mainly inhabited by ethnic minority people, a majority of whom have been struggling with many difficulties.
According to a 2019 survey by the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs, Vietnam is home to 14.1 million ethnic minority people, accounting for 14.7 percent of the total population. It also revealed that the percentage of poor and near-poor households in ethnic minority inhabited areas is 3.5 times higher than the country’s average./.