Review of Agroecology Policies in Vietnam in the Recent Period

Review of Agroecology Policies in Vietnam in the Recent Period

Published: 2022.11.15
Accepted: 2022.11.15
64
Vice President
Vietnam Academy of Agriculture Sciences (VAAS).

ABSTRACT

Agroecology is a method of cultivating crops based on taking advantage of available natural resources to grow crops. Agroecology has the ability to create a better food sources for health, protect the health of producers, help improve yields, reduce production costs and protect natural environment. Many countries are accelerating the transition of agricultural production from conventional farming to sustainable agroecological farming. Agroecology transition not only requires farmers and consumers to be more proactive, but also needs appropriate and effectives public policies. Therefore, this study will clarify the concept of agroecology and determine the requirements of agroecology development such as agroforestry, organic agriculture, landscape agriculture, conservation agriculture, integrated pest and crop management to ensure ecological balance and the exploitation of resources for agricultural production does not negatively affect the natural environment and ensures sustainable development. This study also indicates the agroecology transition in Vietnam, the role of government institutions and public policies, proposing overall solutions to promote agroecological transformation in Vietnam.

Keywords: Agroecology, agricultural policies, Vietnam

 INTRODUCTION

Concept of agroecology

Ecological agriculture is considered as the way for sustainable agriculture development. Ecological agriculture applies methods that allow the regeneration and preservation of ecosystems. Several agroecological techniques are widely applied in agricultural production, such as afforestation, minimum tillage, multi-cultivation, and natural based cultivation. These techniques contribute to enriching nutrients in the soil and renewable ecosystems. Without chemical fertilizer practices, farmers can live in harmony with the ecosystem and utilize natural resources in the most sustainable way. Recently, sustainable eco-oriented agriculture is targeted, it created and maintained by producers on the basis of the rules of the natural ecosystem balancing agricultural production and artificial ecosystems. An agricultural ecosystem is a subject of agricultural activity aimed at creating a sustainable food systems. Basically, an agricultural ecosystem is a relatively simple ecosystem in composition and homogeneous in structure and agroecology is maintained under constant human interactions.

The agroecology consists of four main attributes: Productivity; Stabilization; Sustainability and Fairness. Productivity is the amount of biomass generated per unit of area and time, and stability is the degree at which production is maintained under conditions of minor disturbances caused by environmental factors. This may enable sustainable development; sustainability is the attribute that governs the productivity of the system in terms of greater disturbances. An agroecology also needs fairness, this is the distribution of the finished product to the individuals in the ecological systems. Recently, FAO (2020) has proposed 10 elements of agroecology, including diversity, synergies, co-creation and sharing knowledge, resilience, culture and food traditions, human and social values, efficiency, recycling and responsible governance. When an agroecological system can integrate these elements, it can maintain the sustainable development.

Agroecology approach is convincible and that is evidence-based alternative to the current chemical-based agri-food system promoted by new agricultural technologies and demands for more agricultural commercialization. This approach clearly aims at strengthening innovation capacity of family farms as well as the recognition of their contribution to sustainable food systems. It covers technical, economic, social, policy and institutional dimensions of the agri-food system.

Current agroecological policies in Vietnam

In the event of the 13th Party Congress, the orientation for socio-economic development in the period of 2021 - 2025, determined the goal of building a model: "Agroecology, Modern countryside, and Smart farmers." This is perhaps a goal to concretize one more step to implement the policy of the Resolution 26/NQ-TU of the 7th meeting of the 10th Party Central Committee on "Agriculture, Rural and Farmers.” The notice clearly states the views and orientations for the development of the agricultural sector: The three main pillars of the industry are agriculture, rural areas and farmers, in which farmers must be the center of the subject, the countryside is the foundation, the basis, and agriculture the driving force. Agricultural development activities must revolve around farmers in order to improve the material, spiritual and quality of life for farmers; harmoniously resolve the relationship between the State, society and the market. Agriculture-Rural-Farmers must continue to contribute to political and social stability, and promote the development of industrialization and modernization of the country. In Vietnam, agroecology policies are created to encourage specific agroecological practices such as agroforestry, integrated pest management, integrated crop management, standardization of agricultural practices, organic production, food safety control and conservation and landscape agriculture policies.

Agroforestry policies

Agroforestry is a land-use system in which perennial trees are grown and calculated on the same unit of land as trees. Short-term agriculture and / or animal husbandry, which can be coordinated in time and space. An agroforestry system must have five characteristics: (i) usually consists of two or more crops (or plants and animals), of which at least one perennial tree species is required; (ii) usually produces two or more products; (iii) production cycle is longer than one year; (iv) more ecologically and economically diverse than monoculture systems; (v) there is reciprocal interaction between elements constituting the system (possibly positive and / or inverse interaction).

Agroforestry farming practices could be first time institutionalized and promoted by the government, in the Land Law 1987 which sets agroforestry practices as responsibility of farmers who are allocated with agroforestry land. However, even in the Law on Forest Protection and Development 2004, agroforestry was set as principles of forest protection and development, following revised version of Land Law in 1993, 2003, 2013, agroforestry practices have been no longer considered responsibility of farmers, instead, they are only encouraged to apply in their production. In corresponding with the softening of policies on responsibility of farmers to do agroforestry, at the end of 2000s, there were some policies at the ministry level which provided financial support to motivate farmers to practice agroforestry. There has been a shift in agroforestry policies, from more mandatory to more flexible and selective agroforestry practices at the farm level. Considering the positive aspects of agroforestry practices in a long-run wellbeing of farmers as well as the environment, this shift reflects a failure of the government to pressure market and local demands, in regulating/ directing farming practices towards sustainability. Therefore, there may be a conflict in public policies in pursuing this. Alternatively, agroforestry policies should pay much attention to sustainable aspects of agroforestry practices and ensure that the majority of such practices should contribute to the sustainable development.

Policies for integrated crop management and integrated pesticide management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is “a pest management system based on the environment and specific ecological conditions and population fluctuations, uses appropriate technical means and measures to control the pest populations that are always below the level of economic harm.” Vietnam's national IPM program has been in place since 1992, with the support of FAO, the International IPM Program has to deal with pest outbreaks such as aphids and small leaf-roll worms on rice plants due to the abuse of plant protection drugs. After that, a number of programs were followed, such as: Community IPM program, IPM on vegetables; program for conservation and application of biodiversity in Asian communities as well as the IPM component of the agricultural sector support framework since 2000. At the central government level, the Plant Protection Department is the responsible agency that coordinates and manages the National IPM Program. At the provincial level the program is implemented through the Plant Protection Sub-Departments. The effectiveness of the National IPM Program has been recognized by the community during the aforementioned period. According to the report of Vinh Phuc Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (2020), when applying the IPM process for rice, farmers can reduce the seed quantity by 40%, reduce one pesticide spray, reduce chemical fertilizers, increase yield by 7.5 quintals/ha (about 12%) and increase economic efficiency by nearly US$563/ha compared to production according to local practices.

The goal of the IPM Program is to adopt IPM-based on an ecological approach, to help farmers understand the field ecosystem, use appropriate farming practices, make effective decisions in the management of the production system, grow healthy crops and reduce the use of pesticides in the field. From there, the goal is to build a sustainable production system. Therefore, IPM is an emerging requirement for good agricultural practices particularly in the current context of climate change and accelerating demands of international exporters for safe agricultural products. IPM contributes to increase food security, food safety, protection of public health and agricultural development. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) issued Decision No. 2027/QD-BNN-BVTV dated June 2, 2015 on approving the project: “Promote integrated pest management on crops in 2015 -2020”. This is the first time that the Vietnamese national IPM program was institutionalized and implemented by the Department of Plant Protection under MARD.

Before that practical policy, IPM program in Vietnam has been supported by FAO since 1992 when the first legal document on plant protection issued by the MARD, although the Law on Plant Protection is issued at this period, but no specific regulations related to IPM was found. Even though there had been lots of activities promoted related to IPM in the 1990s and 2000s such as Farmers Field Schools (FFSs), The Department of Plant Protection also recommended several measures to enable agricultural practices that can follow agroecology-oriented practices. One of the measures that has been widely applied in Vietnam, namely “3 reductions, 3 increases” (“3 reductions” are reductions of varieties, fertilizers and pesticides; “3 increases” are increase in yield, quality and efficiency). After that, this measure changes into the “1 Must; 5 reductions” (“1 must” means that farmers must use certified varieties; “5 reductions” are reductions of massive varieties, fertilizers, pesticides, water and post-harvest losses).

In early 2000s, the Integrated Crop Management (ICM) program is widely applied in agricultural production, and it has been officially implemented in Vietnam since 2001. ICM is the combination of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the Integrated Nutrition Management (INM) (hereby ICM = IPM+INM). While IPM focuses on using appropriate pesticide to manage the growth of plants, INM focuses on a management form in which nutrients will be provided to plants based on the characteristics of the ecological environment (soil, water, weather, climate...), growth and development of the plant (depending on the growth stage of each plant) in the best situation. Therefore, ICM is based on the multifaceted correlation of factors in the ecosystem, the type of crop is living and ICM is a harmony combination of practices that can enable sustainable crop management.

The purpose of the ICM program is to improve the capacity and awareness of agricultural staff and farmers about the relationship between fertilizers and pests and the ability to grow and develop crops. Therefore, farmers can use reasonable numbers of seeds in their production, reducing the excessive use of nitrogen and the use of pesticides, thereby creating conditions for plants to grow and develop well, increase productivity, product quality and economic efficiency. ICM is also more practical and it can be adopted to specific ecosystem and region. If the ICM program can be implemented well, plants can grow well with few pests, high yield, clean products, and good quality. In Vietnam, the ICM program also continues with some measures that were widely applied in earlier period but it can be customized to be appropriate to each region such as "3 decreases, 3 increases” measures in the South or “2 decreases, 3 increases” measures in the North. In which, there are 3 reductions: reduction of seed or amount of water for irrigation, reduction of excessive nitrogenous fertilization, reduction of pesticides; 3 increases are: increase crop yield, increase the quality of agricultural products, and increase economic efficiency per unit area. ICM proves clear efficiency in agricultural production, the results showed that the yield increase in the models applying ICM was about 10% higher than that in the control gardens while the increase in economic efficiency was 20- 30% (Nguyen Dang Nghia, 2021).

Policies for standardizing agricultural production

Vietnam has made a change in agricultural production by issuing standards to ensure food safety for consumers. One of the standards in production is Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices (VietGAP). It is the application of food safety preventive production methods to produce safe products, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. Before VietGAP, there had been a lot of agricultural production safety program for fruits and vegetables. In many regions, the regulations were built into the common process for farmers to implement. However, because the government did not setup any unit to be responsible for testing and certifying or giving incentives to encourage producers, the trend of producing clean agricultural produce has not been widely developed, and in some places, it appeared for a while then faded and forgotten. 

VietGAP was developed based on a combination of AseanGAP and GlobalGAP with slightly lower criteria for compliance in aspects of protection applied for farm workers and the environment but not in aspects that directly affect food safety, including compliance with pesticide and fertilizer uses or microbiological contamination (MARD, 2008). VietGAP has been strongly supported by the Vietnam Government. This is clearly shown via issuing the Law on Food Safety later on 2010 and effected on 1st July 2011 requesting for the establishment of the legal regulatory guidelines and performing the roadmap for the VietGAP implementation. Having VietGap is an important preventive measure in food safety control in Vietnam. When farmers follow VietGap, the quality of products is ensured and the consumer is benefitted because they have the chance to buy safe products. This is also a critical turning point in Vietnamese agriculture which aims in attaining agroecology ecosystems because agricultural production can protect both producers and consumers by following VietGap standards. This was clearly determined in the Decision No. 01/2012/QD-TTg dated 9th January 2012 of the Prime Minister on the policy which supports the application of Good Agricultural Production Practices in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The State budget invests 100% of the funds for basic surveys, identifying concentrated production areas applying VietGAP approved by the competent authorities. State budget support: No more than 50% of total investment capital for construction and renovation of infrastructure of concentrated production areas; Support one-time funding for hiring evaluation organizations to be granted safety product certificates; Support training in the application of VietGAP in production and preliminary processing of safe products. Since 2017, VietGAP became a National Standards (TCVN) for voluntary applying.

Policies for Integrated Farming Management (VAC)

Integrated farming practices (the system of “pig-garden-pond,” in short Vietnamese: VAC) are traditional farming practices of Vietnamese people to cope with their poor access to external farming inputs as well as food market before the country was further opened to international market in the mid-1980s. Recognizing the importance of this model, Vietnamese Government has issued several policies to encourage this model nationwide.

Directive 36/CT-TW dated 25 June 1998 of the Politburo on strengthening environmental protection in the period of industrialization and modernization of the country has "issued tax and credit policies to support the use of clean technologies;” Resolution No. 41-NQ/TW dated 15 November 2004 of the Politburo on environmental protection in the period of promoting industrialization and modernization of the country also clearly states that "encourage recycling and use of recycled products" and the socio-economic development strategy 2011-2020 issued for the XI Congress (2011) of the Party; Resolution 24/NQ-TW dated 3 June 2013 of the Central Committee on proactively responding to climate change, strengthening natural resource management and protecting the environment has also continued to emphasize and detailed this policy. On the basis of the Party's policy, the State has issued policies such as the Strategy for Environmental Protection to 2020, with a Vision to 2030; Green Growth Strategy, Decree 38/2015/ND-CP; Decision 16/2015/QD-TTg; National Strategy on Integrated Solid Waste Management 2018. These policies represent the shift towards circular economy of Vietnam in the agricultural sector.

Thanks to the support policies of the Vietnamese government, several models have been established and proved the economic effectiveness in agricultural production and integrated farming management. Some remarkable models are “duck-rice” integration, which is very common, especially in North and Central Vietnam in collectivization period. According to this model, farmers release ducks into rice paddies fields, this does not only help to fatten ducks, but also to make use of ducks for controlling weeds, pests and enhancing rice yield through the addition of more manure and soil/water disturbance that facilitates oxygen exchange and release toxic substances from soils such as metals. Another model is the system of “(floating) rice and fishes” in the Mekong delta. Integrated farming practices have long been proven for their benefit-cost efficiency. However, these types of system have been much reduced recently caused by market-oriented agricultural development and rural population expansion from which fishponds have been converted to housing land or garden for fruits and vegetables. In addition, the 4F biosafety breeding model in livestock is highly appreciated by both farmers and policymakers, this model aims to optimize for main input for livestock raising, including Farm, Foods, Feeds and Fertilizers. This model is a closed production cycle, including: organic pig raising, production of biological products, production of organic animal feed and production of microbial fertilizers. In this model, the waste on the farm is collected and treated to produce microbial organic fertilizers for cultivation, forming a closed agricultural production process from livestock to cultivation, from plants to plants and soil. Implementing the 4F biosafety breeding model not only increases economic efficiency, prevents diseases, but also contributes to protecting the ecological environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be considered as the first true circular economy model in agriculture (Nguyen Thi Mien, 2021).

Policies for organic production

There is an increasing demand for organic products by consumers in both domestic and international markets. This is also a leading reason to encourage the development of organic agriculture in Vietnam in the future. In addition, pressure of environment protection also causes the transition of conventional production into organic production. Organic agriculture is a production system that allows the optimal exploitation of resources such as soil, energy, nutrients, biological processes to take place in nature with the most appropriate management method (Bach Tan Sinh, 2019). By this definition, organic agriculture can also be understood as ecological agriculture. Thus, the term “organic” not only refers to the type of nutrition provided to plants but is expanded as a perspective, in which sustainability is the key (Nguyen Van Bo and Ngo Doan Dam, 2017).

Vietnamese organic products have international promising markets, but organic farming system in Vietnam has not received considerable attention from the government, and it has grown in “an unplanned manner.” However, there is an increase in organic agriculture production area in Vietnam from 53,350 ha in 2016 to 237,693 ha in 2020 and they are grown in 46 out of 63 provinces and cities (MARD, 2020).

In December 2007, the MARD issued national basic standards for organic production, which can now be used as a reference for producers, processors and others interested in organic products for the local market. MARD is planning to set up a certification system for the local market but a timeframe for this activity has not yet been developed. Some private service providers, such as Qualiservice, recently developed competencies to support farmers in obtaining certification (organic and GAP-Good Agricultural Practice) for agricultural and fishery products. A recent good move was that in late 2011, the Vietnam Organic Agriculture (VOA) was officially established and in May 2012 the First Congress of Vietnam Organic Association was held (Ngo Doan Dam et al., 2012).

There is no consistent policy to encourage organic production from local to central level. In other words, there are no official programs or regulations for supporting organic system since the government is still obsessed to meet national food security and the international food demand. This impedes the promotion of organic farming within the country. No legal framework for organic farming eventually causes further effects, such as no training for organic expert in the field, no aid for organic farmers to create organic offices, or no extra costs in production system. Therefore, it is clear that the growth of organic farming needs the legal framework to result in a planned growth of organic agriculture. Actually, the Government of Vietnam through the MARD has collaborated with the VOA.

The draft of the National Basic Standards for Organic Products has been conceptualized and enacted by the MARD in December 2006 through the Decision No. 4094/BNN-KHCN on the issue of 10 TCN 602:2006 Organic. This standard follows the IFOAM guidelines and ISO 65, which are issued by Codex Alimentarius on organic farming. However, this standard has not further issued yet into regulations or policies or specific programs. Thus, it does not bring a better condition for organic development in Vietnam. Vietnam still needs real organic policy, such as the infrastructure, the certification and accreditation, the research and development, the training and education, and also the financial support. The situation has not much changed until the official standard of organic farming was issued in 2017, namely TCVN 11014:2017/2018. These policies appear to be in conflict with environmental goals. Protecting natural resources and environment has not been a pillar of agricultural policy, the use of danger synthetic inputs still continues to be practiced, and the practices at the provincial level maintain high productivity. The policy and administrative failure make organic farming still underdeveloped in Vietnam.

Policy for conservation and landscape agriculture

Conservation agriculture is a sustainable farming method which is suitable for protection of soils in mountainous areas, using ground cover with vegetation and plant waste in order to respond to monoculture of maize in upland causing the serious soil erosions. CIRAD's ADAM project (France) ended in Son la, stopping in the form of technical progress model. There is a gap of upscaling policy. Landscape agriculture is a new approach, applying ecological principles to the whole subregion (valley) in order to achieve sustainable goals. Currently, the WB and ACIAR projects for Coffee and Pepper in the Central Highlands or IDH coffee project are applying this method for demonstration. In the landscape agriculture region, farmers can apply different agroecological practices such as conservation, and agroforestry.

Solutions to facilitate sustainable agroecology transition in Vietnam

Modern agriculture in the 21st century is an intelligent eco-agriculture based on innovative applications of agroecology, combining intelligent and precise management methods using technology. Modern farmers are intended to produce more products in more resource-efficient terms. Therefore, potential solutions to agroecology transition in Vietnam are as follows:

Identify and scale up successful agroecology-oriented production models

Agroecology production models (such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, landscape agriculture, sustainable rice intensification, integrated systems of livestock and farming, organic farming ...) are the main solutions for long-term agricultural intensification, limiting conversion of forests to cultivated land, limiting the use of materials (fertilizers, pesticides), reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and contributing to increase carbon storage. The transition to agroecology will also contribute to crop diversification, improve farmers' capacity to ensure food security, provide safe food products and enhance agricultural biodiversity, improving the resilience of the production system to climate change, contributing to helping Vietnam achieve its international commitments on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Integration of agroecology with appropriate technologies

Developing agroecology model (agroforestry, organic, climate-smart agriculture, conservation agriculture, ...) to produce modern, environmentally friendly goods need to apply suitable technologies in all stages of the value chain by combination with modern governance methods applying digital technology, promoting potential advantages of regions to ensure competitiveness and food safety. Agroecological practices must be resilient to climate change with smart adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Close linkages between agriculture with preservation, processing and consumption

It should have linkage with producers and market actors along the value chain and promote branding of agricultural products and foodstuffs, combining with rural tourism and protecting the rural environment. Develop synchronous infrastructure for the value chain of agricultural products, rural-urban connectivity, modern rural governance through digital technology application, and promotion of the construction of a new and sustainable countryside. The program of building a new countryside should be completed in the direction of “Agroecology; Modern countryside; Smart farmers."

Promote transition from conventional agriculture production to agroecological production

The development of our country's agriculture is entering a high level of intensive farming with the increasing use of chemical fertilizers, chemical plant protection drugs and a series of measures such as three-crop rice cultivation, deforestation, coffee, pepper, cashew cultivation, etc. for the purpose of exploitation and aiming at productivity and output. With the above-mentioned cultivation, the land is increasingly degraded and nutrition is unbalanced. The microbiota in the soil is destroyed, the residue of toxic substances in the soil is higher and higher, and more and more disease sources accumulate in the soil, leading to the generation of some unpredictable pests.

Establishing a sustainable agricultural ecosystem

The essence of a sustainable agricultural ecosystem is a system of plant and animal components that have a causal interaction with each other. Therefore, this change leads to another change, so when studying the agricultural ecosystem, it is necessary to put it in accordance with the operating system principle, as well as the law of development of the ecosystem, and the ecological environment is also carefully invested and protected. Therefore, the trend of returning to agriculture is the general trend of Vietnam in particular and the world in general.

Promoting local advantages in agroecology transition policies

The solution directions should focus on: (i) developing and upgrading domestic value chains and processing; and (ii) exporting and diversifying high quality markets, promoting trade in official agricultural products. Businesses need to change the mindset that the domestic market is of low quality. In terms of strategy, after the pandemic it is an opportunity for Vietnam to assert its position in global value chains, upgrade value chains of agricultural products and foodstuffs, and ensure food safety according to the standards of importing countries. For high-end markets with FTA, the strategy of diversifying local and indigenous products such as Geographical Indications, One Commune - One Product (OCOP), organic products, to add value and brand for Vietnamese agricultural products is the priority direction. In this process, supportive policies of the state such as linking, developing cooperatives, investing in post-harvest technology are effectively deployed, supporting businesses, cooperatives and farming households are essential.

Sustainable agricultural development policies must be based on the four attributes of ecological agriculture

However, in reality, the Vietnamese government and people mostly focus only on the first attribute - Production productivity during the past time. The role of ecological services that the system provides is often neglected, overlooked, or ignored in national economic development strategies, as well as in everyday agricultural activities of the people. Ecological harms caused by unsustainable chemicals and other farming practices are often offset by increased chemical or mechanical investment. In the long run, the productivity of agricultural ecosystems and the quality of agricultural products are governed and determined by supporting ecosystem services such as soil, water, and biodiversity quality ... rather than high-tech equipment (net houses, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, expensive irrigation systems ...). Therefore, in the context of climate change, widespread resource degradation, and current population pressures, the protection of agricultural resources must be considered as a top priority in the national development goals, especially with a background in science and technology and a low level of services like Vietnam.

Policies should focus on restoring the quality of ecological services

Ecological services have been severely damaged and degraded in decades by the abuse of chemical investments. Moreover, agricultural development plans are unscientific and lack interest in protecting and maintaining ecological services. Therefore, eco-agriculture - not just high-tech agriculture - must be seen as an alternative to today's chemically intensive agriculture. Ecological agriculture aims to increase people's creative capacity in their adaptation strategies to achieve the highest efficiency of agricultural production on investment, sustainability, protection from epidemics, as well as ensuring the quality of agricultural products, and the health of producers and consumers in general.

CONCLUSION

In brief, during the past 40 years of renovation, the government has had a number of recommended policies on technical progress about agroecological practices. However, there are no comprehensive socio-economic solutions to orient development, especially in terms of markets for products of agroecology.  Besides, we do not have a policy on orientation on agroecology in general, but only policies to encourage each specific type, but the support policy lacks consistency.  In order to implement the overall strategy on agroecology, the Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development Strategy by 2030 needs to have integrated policies to support promoting the transition roadmap from chemical intensive farming to agroecology to achieve the goal of reducing the use of chemicals, reducing environmental pollution, increasing product quality and moving towards sustainability.

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