In our efforts to promote inclusive and sustainable agricultural practices, Rikolto has consistently supported smallholder farmers and cooperatives in developing creative solutions. One example is the An Hoa Agricultural Service Cooperative. The use of a messaging platform has improved communication, streamlined processes and strengthened the relationship between farmers and the cooperative, helping to establish An Hoa Cooperative as a major cucumber supplier in the region.
Located in An Hoa commune, Tam Duong district, Vinh Phuc province, An Hoa Cooperative initially focused solely on cucumber production and supply, with no particular business orientation or market segmentation. In 2018, Rikolto started working with the cooperative to address challenges such as low yields, small-scale production, and the use of local seed varieties with low productivity.
The collaboration aimed to improve facilities, provide financial support for quality seeds and fertilizer, and implement a participatory guarantee system (PGS) for safe vegetable production. Training in business management, customer acquisition and product quality management was also provided to the staff of the cooperative.
As a result, the cooperative expanded its operations to Tuyen Quang province in 2020 and developed an inclusive business model with its farmer groups.
During this phase, Rikolto worked with agricultural experts in Tuyen Quang to provide on-site training on gardening and cucumber harvesting, and partnered with the Tuyen Quang Agricultural Extension Centre to support An Hoa's development in the province.
This expansion drew in more than 50 groups, consisting of more than 2,000 smallholder farmers, including the elderly and ethnic minority groups, across 28 communes in Tuyen Quang province, covering a vast area of 300 hectares.
Before this expansion, the cooperative had 70 members, including 40 core members in An Hoa commune and 30 affiliated farmers in two other communes in Tam Duong district.
The success of this model was acknowledged by the Tuyen Quang province's Agricultural Extension Center in its 2022 report, highlighting the cooperative's effective linkage with farmers and businesses.
"In the past, farmers used to produce spontaneously on a small scale, using old local varieties with low productivity. This collaboration has allowed farmers to increase employment, earn more and improve production. They have shifted from individual to collective thinking, and from small-scale subsistence production to commodity production. The use of advanced production techniques is also improving productivity and product quality in the province'svalue chain.” Mr. Nguyen Ngoc De - Deputy Director of the Agricultural Extension Center of Tuyen Quang.
To further improve its production and commercialisation, An Hoa Cooperative is using Zalo, a messaging application popular in Vietnam.
The application was adopted because of its simple user interface, with a Vietnamese language version. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are in English. This can be difficult for farmers to use. Also, compared to Zalo, Facebook Messenger is quite limited when it comes to sharing files or information.
An Hoa management staff set up Zalo chat groups to exchange information. This includes planning, transactions and technical support between the cooperative, its members and buyers.
Through Zalo, the cooperative collects data from its members at the beginning of each cycle on registered production hectares and crop yields. This information allows the cooperative to adjust its business plan accordingly, ensuring a harmonious match between supply and demand.
The Zalo chat groups also serve as a platform for open and transparent communication. An Hoa cooperative provides daily updates on purchase prices to the group, while members share updates and feedback on purchased products throughout the day, ensuring a seamless flow of information.
Regular updates on yields, crop quality and quantity are shared quickly, facilitating timely transport arrangements for product collection.
The purchasing process is facilitated by pre-agreements on packaging, bag weight, style, size and collection points. The cooperative also guarantees payment to farmers within a week of purchasing the product to ensure capital turnover. Moreover, they negotiate contracts, which are established through joint agreements between An Hoa Cooperative, individual households and team leaders.
The application of Zalo has not only improved management of the value chain by involving farmers and cooperatives, but has also encouraged farmers to adopt sustainable practices, resulting in higher quality crops.
In addition, farmers can instantly seek technical advice, share concerns or report pest and disease problems by posting pictures and questions in the chat groups. The cooperative's support staff respond promptly, often the same day, and provide the necessary advice. Regular visits are made to production areas to facilitate direct exchange.
This streamlined flow of information has reduced operational costs, including transaction costs and travel expenses forthe cooperative. Over the course of two years, this model has generated more than 87 billion VND in revenue. It has provided farmers with a stable livelihood and surpassed the profitability of traditional rice farming.
"Regular updates and shared information enable farmers to better comprehend and adhere to sustainable production techniques and product standards," - Chairman of Thanh Long commune's production group.
Rikolto's partnership with An Hoa Cooperative and Tuyen Quang partners illustrates the benefits of using information and communication technologies such as Zalo to foster collaboration and empower farmers and cooperatives in their pursuit of inclusive and sustainable business practices.
Now let's look at the buyer's side of the equation: working with An Hoa cooperative that has established clear and transparent communication mechanisms with its members can offer buyers significant benefits:
By replicating this successful model, Rikolto aims to create a ripple effect, enabling more cooperatives and smallholder farmers to thrive and contribute to a sustainable and inclusive food system.
Editor: Selene Casanova - International Communications, Rikolto