Seventy smallholder mango farmers in Southern Vietnam have completed a Walking the Chain demonstration led by Griffith University, a demand focused activity aimed to validate the effect of trade interventions in domestic supply chains.

Farmers were transported to Ho Chi Minh City and walked along the produce trade path to their own farms in Dong Thap and Tien Giang provinces, each step giving them a better understanding of what’s required to successfully supply a modern retailer.

Robin Roberts from Business for Griffith Research Scholars Hub

The innovative activity was part of an (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) ACIAR funded project, led by Griffith University agribusiness expert, Associate Professor Robin E Roberts, designed to improve smallholder farmer incomes through strategic market development in mango supply chains in Southern Vietnam.

“Mango farming is a significant contributor to Vietnam’s economy, with almost half the production originating in the Mekong Delta region,” Associate Professor Robin said.

“While both domestic and export trade markets are currently facing steady growth, the smallholder farmers in the region are yet to realise the benefits, with many still facing challenges such as small volume trading, process inefficiencies, and high production costs.”

The four-year long project centred on identifying opportunities for farmers to increase their competitiveness, by evaluating options to overcome barriers and improve their capacity, industry stakeholder linkages, and knowledge sharing. The project has not been without its own challenges, those that ensued from the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent travel restrictions and border closures, but after two years of digital learning and online engagement the research team were finally able to put theory into practice and personally deliver the demonstrations.

The activity provided the farmers with new understanding on concepts such as market access and consumer behaviour and provided evidence-based practical solutions to improve the quality of their yield and ultimately their trading outcomes.

Walking the Chain spanned across two days and began with a quality training workshop in Ho Chi Minh City. The second step then gave farmers an opportunity to engage with fresh produce managers from two modern grocery retailers, where they discussed fruit quality, fruit safety, retail requirements and trade marketing. The third step took place at a packhouse in Dong Thap province in which the farmers were given a forum to discuss how premium quality produce was prepared for distribution. Here they were given demonstrations on sap burn treatment, hot water treatment, and packaging. The final stop was a visit to one of the mango farms that had participated in the project.

“The farmers were given an information kit which included resource materials, summaries of each demonstration, and booklets in which they could further record their own learnings. After two days of enthusiastic discussions between the farmers and the demonstration leads, the booklets were observed to be almost full,” Associate Professor Robin said.

“While the project’s current focus is proof-of-concept for supply chain interventions, the Walking the Chain activity demonstrated the value in the practical application of its research, by connecting farmers with the end consumers of their produce.”

The Griffith University and Vietnamese researchers are eager to extend their collaboration and continue their work with mango supply chain stakeholders in the Mekong Delta region. Together they will present a dozen practical evidence-based pieces of research in a special edition journal, due to be released in early 2023.