Communist Review - Over the past time, in Vietnam, some ecological agricultural models have been implemented successfully. However, ecological agricultural production is still fragmented, and not integrated into value chains, and there is a lack of farmer groups and cooperatives specialized in environmentally sustainable agriculture. Many organic products have not been certified, or labeled, and have not been commercialized by businesses. Therefore, the promotion of ecological agriculture, and integration in value chains in the coming time needs the implementation of comprehensive solutions.
Ecological agriculture and its role in agriculture
Resolution No. 19-NQ/TW, dated June 16, 2022, of the Fifth Conference of the Central Committee of the Party, 13th tenure on "Agriculture, farmers and rural areas to 2030, vision toward 2045” continues to affirm the role of agriculture, farmers and rural areas in the renovation, construction and defense of the Fatherland. Industrialization and modernization of agriculture and rural areas are identified as one of the most important tasks during the process of national industrialization and modernization. Top priority should be given to investing in agriculture, farmers, and rural areas. Ensure a balanced development between rural and urban areas, between regions and localities; closely connect industry and services to agriculture; sustainable rural development must be balanced with the process of urbanization to develop “ecological agriculture, modern countryside, civilized farmers”.
Thanks to the clear-sighted leadership of the Party and State, Vietnam has well exploited its advantages of tropical agriculture to maintain growth, and shift towards commodity production at a larger scale and increase productivity and quality, develop industries and products with competitive advantages. Exports of agricultural, forestry, and fishery products have grown constantly, making Vietnam one of the world's agricultural powerhouses. What is more, the agricultural sector plays an important role in providing human resources, inputs, and resources for national industrialization. Between 2011 and 2020, the average GDP of agriculture, forestry, forestry, and fishery reached 2.83%/year; the GDP of agriculture, forestry, and fishery (comparative prices in 2010) in 2020 was 1.32 times higher than that of 2010.
Despite significant performances, the quality and sustainability of agricultural growth and farming methods are still limited; agricultural practices based on the increase of acreage, abuse of natural resources, chemical fertilizers, and toxic pesticides increase production costs, reduce the competitiveness of agricultural products, and cause negative impacts on the environment; Food production and business are mainly conducted by smallholders who are not closely connected to each other. Moreover, climate change is becoming more and more challenging, leading to extreme weather events and unpredictable epidemics and causing negative impacts on agricultural production.
In the world today, the green, circular, and sharing economy has been emerging as a tool to achieve the goals of sustainable and adaptive development, and reduce the effects of climate change and other market risks. Ecological agricultural production models (1) are the main solutions for long-term agricultural production in an attempt to limit the conversion of forest land to cropland, reduce the use of materials, minimize emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture, increase soil carbon storage and natural vegetation in occasionally fallow land or use mulch. The transition to ecological agriculture is based on the principle of crop diversification, helping improve farmers' knowledge, ensure food security, provide safe food and enhance biodiversity conservation in agriculture, build food production resilience to climate change, help Vietnam fulfill its international commitments on climate change adaptation and mitigation (2).
It can be seen that ecological agriculture is an inevitable direction towards sustainable agricultural development when there is an application of ecological and social concepts and principles in the management of agricultural and food systems; optimize the relationship and effective interaction between fauna and flora, human beings and the environment and prioritize solving social problems to develop a transparent, responsible and sustainable food system.
Current situation of ecological agriculture in Vietnam in recent years
In Vietnam, some ecological farming methods have been implemented, bringing efficiency and creating a premise for ecological agricultural development. All these methods aim at exploiting and using resources efficiently, minimizing loss and waste, and providing safe, high-quality products and minimizing impacts on the environment, preserving ecosystems and human well-being. Here are some typical farming practices that have been implemented over the years:
Garden–pond–shed farming model (VAC): This method was popular in Vietnam since the 1980s. It refers to a form of wholly integrated domestic agriculture in which products are always passed into the production cycle. This is a complete and integrated ecological system for low capital investment and is suitable for most suburban and rural areas of Vietnam. This can be considered an ecological farming model in its simplest form and is widely applied in rural areas. Currently, many VAC practices lead to an effective connection between farmers, businesses, and scientists. Their products are always highly appreciated by domestic and international consumers and can access large markets. From small-scale farming practiced by smallholders that aimed initially at food security, hunger eradication and poverty alleviation, VAC farming today has been successfully developed in many farms and big businesses.
Rice-shrimp, rice-fish farming model: integrated agriculture-aquaculture farming system (rice-shrimp, rice-fish) is a new direction in the development of organic agriculture in recent years. This model emerged in the early 2000s in the Mekong Delta provinces. In this system, by-products from shrimp and fish farming are used as nutritional supplements for rice plants; conversely, when the rice is harvested, by-products from rice farming are used as food for shrimp and fish. With this crop rotation model, pesticides and antibiotics are not used to grow plants and animals in order to provide organic and safe products and protect the environment, empowering farmers to improve their incomes. Up to now, this model is being transformed into the "organic rice - organic shrimp" and " organic rice - organic fish" model. This is the result of innovation and creativity based on knowledge and the natural conditions of each region. This practice brings benefits, such as sustainable agricultural development, reduction of environmental pollution, ecological conservation, and organic products to market. In particular, this model is a solution for households in low-lying and flood-prone areas to shift production, improve income, and minimize negative impacts caused by climate change.
Integrated agroforestry system: an agro-forestry model is a land-use system in which annual plants, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are deliberately used on the same land-management units as crops. Silvopastoral systems combine forestry and grazing of domesticated animals on pastures. This combination creates diversity, productivity, profitability, ecology, and sustainability in land use. Biodiversity in agroforestry systems is generally higher than in conventional agricultural systems. Therefore, many farmers have chosen to convert to agro-forestry models to diversify their products, improve livelihoods as well as adapt to the impacts of climate change. In Vietnam, there are various practices of agroforestry farming such as pea growth under an alley cropping system in the annual agricultural landscape in order to reduce erosion and use green manure in situ; combination of crops and forestry trees; grazing of animals on the agricultural landscape; small-scale afforestation combined with crops, fruit trees, and food crops; combination of fruit trees and industrial plants.
Sustainable landscape agriculture system: this is an integrated approach to address environmental degradation, adapt to climate change and enhance biodiversity, and improve food security and nutrition. Up to the present, multiple sustainable landscape agriculture practices take place, such as landscape coffee model in Lam Dong and Dak Lak provinces; management and conservation of wetland ecosystems, and sustainable ecological development in Tram Chim National Park, Dong Thap province.
4F biosecurity livestock system (Farm - Food - Feed - Fertilizer): 4F model is researched and developed by Guilin Group in an attempt to build an agricultural ecosystem through the implementation of organic agricultural product processing complexes to control safe pork production in a closed loop farming system. Residues and manure in farms are recycled to produce microbial organic fertilizer for cultivation, forming closed-loop farming from livestock to cultivation, from trees to soil. This system brings economic benefits, helps prevent epidemics, preserves the environment, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Agro-ecotourism system: this is a system that uses the integrated principle of ecological agriculture. Agro-ecotourism is a model that has been increasingly invested and focused in Vietnam in recent years, creating a lot of attraction for domestic and foreign tourists as well as increasing income for farmers. In the past time, there have been many successful agro-ecotourism practices in Vietnam, such as agritourism in Hoi An (Quang Nam province), Ba Vi (Hanoi city), Tam Duong (Lai Chau province), Sa Pa (Lao Cai province),...
Organic farming: Recently, organic agricultural practices have also been invested. Many models of organic farming in cultivation, animal husbandry, and aquaculture have been developed. Up to now, the production area for organic farming in Vietnam has reached over 170 thousand hectares.
Some provinces such as Lam Dong and Dak Lak are developing landscape agricultural systems for coffee. This model integrates principles of efficiency, diversity, locality, and social governance and is also humane. This is a very important direction in the development of ecological agriculture in Vietnam. Especially with sustainable landscape systems, the role of businesses is crucial as they are involved from the beginning to the consummation of products provided by farmers.
However, in order to transform production into ecological agriculture, we still face countless challenges:
First of all, at present, the concept of sustainable agriculture has not gained popularity. Production and business activities mainly focus on increasing output without paying much attention to food safety, self-sustainability of the production system, biodiversity, and soil health, plant health. Due consideration has not been given to improving product quality. Moreover, production has not met sharp shifts in customer behavior in the domestic as well as international markets. Currently, the area of organic farming in Vietnam is only about 170 thousand hectares, certified cultivation areas with sustainable standards such as VietGAP, GlobalGAP, and similar certifications account only for 10%.
Secondly, not many enterprises have invested in the agricultural sector, especially in ecological farming. Agriculture is a low-profitable production industry and often faces risks such as natural disasters. In addition, the agricultural product market is also highly volatile and risky. This is one of the factors hindering enterprises from participating in the agricultural sector and agricultural value chains. Besides, agricultural businesses are mainly small and medium-sized with limited financial capacity. Over 90% are small, even micro-enterprises with low efficiency, so it is difficult to accelerate the transition into ecological agriculture.
Thirdly, although consumers' awareness of safe and organic products is improved, they are not willing to pay a commensurate price to purchase them. Despite the increasing demand for healthy diets and dietary diversification, consumers are not willing to pay a commensurate price. The awareness of the connection between agricultural production and environmental and social issues, including climate change, nutrition, and health, is inadequate.
Fourthly, at present, in Vietnam, the overall connection of agricultural value chains is relatively randomness. Most ecological agriculture systems are experimental models and not developed in real life. The main reason is the loose relationship between actors in the value chain.
Fifthly, agricultural policies are not motivating enough to create an equal environment for ecological agriculture and other sustainable agricultural approaches that take into account external factors of the food and farming system.
Solutions to develop ecological agriculture and agricultural value chains
First and foremost, promote communication to change the perception of farmers and society about sustainable agricultural development.
Although Vietnam already developed some ecological farming models, it is not easy to implement these principles because this is a new concept and approach. To accelerate the transition into ecological agriculture, first and foremost, it is necessary to formulate communication strategies to change the perception of managers, farmers, cooperatives, and businesses. What is more, it is essential to change the perception of society to promote sustainable farming and encourage consumers to purchase organic products. Adopt appropriate policies to encourage businesses to provide organic products to the market.
Secondly, promote innovation in agriculture, and enhance knowledge sharing towards sustainable, transparent, and responsible agriculture.
Promote research and development, innovation, and use updated crops and varieties breed that are resilient to climate change and natural disasters, give priority to the gene collection, conservation, and development of local plant and animal genomes in both farm households and gene banks; support farmers to preserve precious plant and animal breedings by supporting the development of local varieties into specialty products, improving economic benefits and helping farmers develop agricultural production. Adopt policies and technical assistance programs to promote sustainable farming systems (e.g. ecological agriculture practices, precision agriculture, agroforestry, landscape agriculture, and so forth) and afforestation, especially in degraded and coastal areas. The production system in areas with harsh conditions should be invested in combination with other industries (for example, the preservation, processing, purchasing, and distribution of products,...). Develop and pilot incentives to scale up a climate-smart agriculture model to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and contribute to increased carbon storage. Propagate and promote new techniques as well as local practices to improve productivity without losing local experience and techniques.
Study diverse models of ecological agriculture, and techniques to develop ecological agriculture in different regions and industries, and share experiences and technologies with farmers to popularize models.
Thirdly, develop and complete the criteria for assessment of ecological agriculture and certifications.
The establishment of this indicator is, first of all, done at the household level; then, it can be expanded to the region, commune, or district level. Currently, criteria and standards for the assessment of sustainable agriculture are being studied and applied by organizations in practice. Vietnam needs to have criteria for ecological agriculture to evaluate the current agricultural system and develop sustainable agriculture suitable to the specific conditions of Vietnam or each region and product.
Fourthly, develop policies to support farmers to switch from traditional agriculture to ecological agriculture.
Developing ecological agriculture may reduce productivity and efficiency in the short run. Therefore, supporting policies are needed to accelerate the transition. Building an ecosystem for sustainable farming with the involvement of the agricultural community is essential for the transition to ecological agriculture. In addition to training programs for farmers, it is also necessary to have policies to support the purchase of seeds, connect agricultural chains, support the consumption of organic products or implement preferential credit policies to enhance ecological agriculture.
Fifthly, develop a sustainable agriculture value chain.
There should be supportive policies for farmers who practice organic farming. Support businesses to commercialize agricultural output through preferential policies on credit, tax, training, branding, and product promotion. Study and develop programs to promote the consumption of safe, responsible, and transparent agricultural products, support promotion programs for organic products, and gradually move towards implementing eco-labeling brands for ecological products.
Sixthly, environmentally sustainable agriculture should be identified as the orientation, and at the same time, the task of the localities.
It is required to insert the goals of transition into ecological agriculture in the agricultural strategy. On that basis, a roadmap and action plan should be developed following local conditions. Establish a close connection between the local action plan and the plan to transform into national food sustainable system. Assess and review the current agricultural policy system of both central and local governments to make adjustments to achieve sustainable agriculture goals./.
(1) Conservation agriculture, agroforestry, landscape agriculture, natural agriculture, sustainable rice intensification, integrated livestock and crops systems, organic farming, integrated pest management (IPM),...
(2) Dao The Anh, Le Thanh Y, Chu Tien Quang: "Developing ecological agriculture associated with sustainable rural development", Nhan Dan Online, October 29, 2020, https:// nhadan.vn/tin-tuc-su-kien/phat-trien-nen-nong-nghiep-sinh-thai-gan-voi-phat-trien-nong-thon-ben-vung-622338/
This article was published in the Communist Review No. 998 (November 2022)