Vietnam Ecological Linkage Company Limited (Ecolink Co. Ltd.) has been a pioneer of organic agriculture and fair trade in Vietnam since 2004. With support from its parent company (Hiep Thanh Co. Ltd.) and a partner development organisation (SADAS), Ecolink has developed several organic fair trade products (which have been certified for export to the EU/America), as well as other organic vegetables. Ecolink has reliable partners in the EU for the import of organic fair trade tea and ginger from Vietnam, and a growing distribution network of organic-Fairtrade food in local convenience stores (Ecomart). In 2011, Ecolink got support from the Trade for Development Centre to set up a supply channel for organic fair trade tea and ginger from the Tiên Nguyên commune (Quang Binh district, Ha Giang province). At this time, Ecolink had three types of product: organic fair trade black tea, organic fair trade green tea and spices (ginger and cinnamon).
With these projects, Ecolink has showed its long-term vision. It starts with the farmers of particularly remote regions where primarily ethnic minorities live. Poverty is endemic, but pesticides are not used as intensively as elsewhere. The transition to full organic cultivation, organic certification and the international organic and fair trade market also offer opportunities to reach consumers in their home countries with safe, organic produce.
With the TDC’s financial support, hundreds of tea farmers were brought together in Tiên Nguyên. This led to the establishment of a cooperative and a whole series of courses and training in farmer field schools. Beside the local tea variety (Shan tea), increasing attention went to planting ginger between the tea bushes. A nursery for young shoots and an installation for curing and processing tea leaves were developed. These efforts led to the cooperative gaining both organic and fair trade certification for tea and ginger in 2014, while Ecolink also signed its first contracts with European buyers. Local authorities are also fully involved in this organic story.
Ecolink is committed to sustainable agriculture. The company introduces natural Vietnamese products to improve people’s quality of life, but also assumes corporate social responsibility and improves the livelihoods of upland farmers and associated stakeholders in the chains.
TDC financed an Ecolink project from October 2014 to October 2015 with a budget of 59,911 euros. Organic agriculture and fair trade were new concepts in Vietnam. There is an opportunity for the ethnic minorities in the remote areas of Vietnam to apply organic agriculture and take part in the fair trade market, as they hardly use any chemicals during cultivation, and thanks to the high quality of the indigenous products.
Ecolink is very committed to long-term business in the organic/fair trade sector in Vietnam and to its philosophy on sustainability based on long-term sustainable links between farmer – processing factory – trader/broker – end user. Given the special features of agro-produce exports, especially in the organic/fair trade sector, the link with farmers is crucially important to ensure a long-term and stable supply of high-quality products which are vital for exporters in this increasingly competitive trading environment. The specific objectives of Ecolink were to build up new farmer groups and admit new members for 2 old groups in the Tả Van Chư commune, to give intensive training for farmers, leaders and inspectors, and to set up organic fertiliser factories in the Tả Van Chư commune provide inputs cheap, high quality for Bac Ha tea area.
The results obtained from this project have been significant:
- Strengthened farmer organisations in Bac Ha and Tiên Nguyên: 11 new groups have been set up (with a total of 920 households newly involved). 37 organic training farms have been built. 15 farmers groups have been trained in organic and sustainable agriculture. Ecolink is now using 3 GPS to improve the mapping of the production area, and Farm Force software as an ICS and accounting software. The organisation also set up training for 34 people in management roles (trainers, leaders and Ecolink management team) and a visit of 30 people to the Tam Duong Tea Co., an enterprise which has developed a high-quality tea production.
- Improved the quality of the end products by investing in a refinery processing complex for tea/ginger: in February 2015, in partnership with Hiep Thanh Co., Ecolink built a fully equipped spice processing factory. In July 2015, Ecolink inaugurated a second tea processing factory (with a capacity of 15 tons of green leaves) in Na Tho Village.
- Improved the marketing capacity of Ecolink and strengthened the indigenous brand of Bac Ha/Tiên Nguyên organic/fair trade foods both on the local and international market: building of the B2B website for organic and fair trade products, working on a market study for organic and fair trade products, attending international trade fairs, setting up a retail shop in Hanoi.
- Further support for certification: training for potential fair trade and organic producers, certification cost of cooperatives and Ecolink (export certification).
- Invested in production of crucial input material for the organic industry: study on bio-fertiliser and bio-pesticide, making bio-fertiliser (from maize, cob, husk and coffee
)and bio-pesticides (from Neem, millettia and chrysanthemum), building a lab facility to produce micro-organisms, printing posters to introduce making compost and training Ecolink’s staff on the technique to produce bio-fertiliser and bio-pesticide.
- Built up an organic community: organised a seminar with international and national stakeholders on organic production, set up an organic library and ordered and distributed 2,500 copies of Vietnam Organic Magazine.