A farmer direct market organized in Ho Chi Minh City is providing consumers with more reliable access to safe food.
The new sales outlet is also helping ease growers’ dependence on intermediary businesses.
Scared off by chemical-fed cattle and chemical-sprayed greens, rampant in local markets and even some supermarkets, many urban dwellers have turned to several newly opened fair-style markets for their daily intake of safe produce.
At a typical weekly gathering at Luong Nong in District 1, which does not begin until 10:30 am, its seven or eight stalls are usually out of stock by noon.
The stands are simply arranged as in a rustic market common in the countryside, with farmers themselves selling a wide variety of their own safe, organic produce, ranging from greens, herbs, spices, to fish and meat.
Le Thi Thanh Van, who has shopped at the market two or three times previously, said that she was happy with the fresh food and affordable prices here.
Similarly, the Xanh Tu Te (Decent Greens) market, run in District 3 on Saturday and Sunday every week, has also won over a broad clientele, with its 20 stalls offering quality farm items from different locations across the country.
“I feel reassured buying greens and meat directly from farmers, who are also willing to answer my questions regarding how safely they make their products,” Quang Minh, one market-goer noted.
The Luong Nong fair market, which runs once a week, was initiated in January 2016 by Nghiem Thi Thao, a Ho Chi Minh City resident put off by relentless media stories about the alarming use of banned chemicals in the local food industry.
She got to know several others equally concerned about food safety through Facebook and soon launched the market as a bridge between these types of clients and safe green-growers.
Safe greens are packed carefully. Photo: Tuoi Tre
The model has quickly grown beyond Thao and other members’ expectations, with high customer support and farmer participation.
Many growers and cattle raisers from provinces in the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands have also joined the program.
The markets are held on unused plots of land owned by companies, so stall owners are not required to pay any participation fees.
Likewise, founders of the Xanh Tu Te fair market, patronized by the Center of Business Studies and Assistance, have also worked hard to cement consumer trust.
According to Vu Kim Anh, in charge of the center’s Startup Club, the market aims to arm farmers with sales skills and knowledge of their potential customers’ needs, to better tailor their cultivation and food processing practices.
Clients also benefit from the market in that they are bringing home hygienically sound purchases and learning how to tell quality, safe food products from unsafe ones, and properly process them at home, she added.
Market-goers are also voting for the stalls with the best goods on display, and the most effective sales strategies.
The winning stalls receive a 50 percent discount on participation fees at the next market session.
Many farmers already highly value these new markets, which have strengthened their cooperation in production and ensured sales outlets for their produce.
Based in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, the club, which is aimed at assisting local youth to launch their own startups, sent four of its members to the latest edition of the Xanh Tu Te market, where their grapes, apples, asparagus and pyriform melons sold like hot cakes.
Nguyen Ky Tri, the clubs’ head, confirmed they would take part in future market sessions.
Similarly, greenhouse-grown veggies from An Phu Club in Da Lat, a beloved resort town in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, and organic greens cultivated by Mai Hoa Agricultural Cooperative in the outlying district of Hoc Mon in Ho Chi Minh City, have also been enthusiastically welcomed.
Safe greens are packed carefully. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Despite considerable assistance from such markets, safe green farmers still face huge difficulties.
Nguyen Thi Loan recently took part in a market session along with her three neighbors, offering for sale their 30-kilogram carload of Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS)-certified produce.
A locally focused quality assurance system, the PGS certify producers based on the active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networking and knowledge exchange.
To join the systems, farmers are required to work in teams, with team leaders cross-checking one another’s products and coordinators carrying out regular quality inspections before granting certificates.
It took Loan one year to prepare her soil and water before switching from conventionally grown greens to organic ones.
To become PGS-certified requires that farmers use organic fertilizers composted for three months from chicken’s and cows’ waste, and safe pesticides made from chilly, garlic and ginger, she explained.
Despite being time and energy consuming, the new, environmentally friendly approach helps cut production costs and earns profits 40 percent higher than those yielded by the traditional cultivation practice, Loan said.
Pham Thi Tuyet Mai, a farmer in the suburban Ho Chi Minh City district of Cu Chi, and her two friends, also struggled for more than a year before their 1,000m² organic veggie garden proved fruitful.
Apart from adhering to the rigorous quality criteria, she also found wrapping her produce in attractive packaging a challenge.
Part of the crowded Xanh Tu Te market session. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Quality remains under question
Duong Hoa Xo, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, noted that these community-based markets have proved a success in several countries.
However, agricultural authorities have so far relied only on the guarantee regarding the quality of produce supplied, given by the participating farmers themselves.
The department is considering launching similar market sessions exclusive to farmers and businesses obtaining VietGAP, or Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practice, which is a set of standards for locally made agro-products established by the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Xo noted.
Anh, in charge of the Center of Business Studies and Assistance’s Startup Club, asserted that produce offered for sale at all Xanh Tu Te market sessions have all had their quality stringently inspected.
According to an agricultural expert, city-dwellers’ recent embrace of such markets is more likely linked to novelty, the organizers’ reputation and the direct connection between consumers and farmers, rather than the supposed quality of the so-called safe produce.