Vietnam’s newly-appointed Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Minh Hoan is determined to boost sustainable development in the Mekong Delta, improve the lives of the region’s farmers, and market its products under an internationally recognized global brand.
In a recent discussion with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Minister Hoan, who was ratified by the National Assembly on April 8, shared that his goal is to create “responsible agriculture” in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
According to Hoan, the expansion of the country’s agriculture sector may not be a strong indicator of income growth and quality-of-life improvements for Vietnamese farmers.
“Can we truly understand the lives of famers and their financial situations simply by looking at what the agriculture industry has achieved?” Hoan questioned.
During his tenure, Hoan hopes to create a balance between agricultural growth and the quality of life for famers while simultaneously managing the social and environmental impacts of development on farming.
In order to do this, his ministry plans to take a holistic approach to improving the agriculture sector, including considering the role of healthcare and environmental protection costs in developing sustainable farming.
“The agricultural industry should not be forced to ignore the environment, ecosystem, and public health in order to meet its growth targets,” he said, adding that the industry’s chase for high crop yields forces it to abuse chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents, which endangers public health and hurts the image of local brands.
Other problems noted by Hoan include the lack of updated market information and a loose connection between supply and demand which has led to wasted products or forced authorities to launch “rescue the famers” campaigns.
Such campaigns call on individuals and enterprises to purchase overproduced crops, such as the watermelons, purple onions, and oranges grown in Quang Ngai, Soc Trang, and Tuyen Quang Provinces, respectively.
Do not just exhort but give support
“In the past few years, we’ve managed to create a link between farm producers and investors in order to bring agriculture products to a wide variety of markets,” Minister Hoan said.
“Now it’s time to shift such a link to a value chain that ensures sustainable development.”
In a value chain, farm produce is classified and preliminarily processed before being supplied to markets.
This generates more jobs for workers and more income for farmers by creating preliminary treatment, preservation, and processing activities.
The uptick in revenue puts more money in farmers’ pockets, meaning fewer feel being forced to move to urban areas in search of more lucrative employment.
Regarding the role his ministry hopes to play in his vision for the industry, Hoan explained that government agencies at all levels should focus less on encouragement and more on educating farmers on agricultural economics in order for them to better understand the changing market.
Hoan also plans to focus his ministry on creating more outlets for both fresh and processed farming products.
“If the outlets are stagnant, production will come to a standstill,” he said.
The agriculture sector has long believed that the creation of outlets for farm produce falls under the responsibility of other industries and specialized agencies.
Such thinking must change and market solutions must be included from the beginning of any agricultural product development plan.
A global ‘Mekong Delta’ brand
Regarding the challenges that climate change and limited infrastructure pose to agriculture, Hoan declared the first step in overcoming these obstacles is to push the sector toward a nature-based production model.
Such a switch will be based on Government Resolution 120, which is centered on the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta in response to climate change, Minister Hoan explained.
After famers have been educated on agricultural economics, they will begin to understand higher produce quality, as opposed to higher yields, can provide hefty long-term benefits and pave the way for strong brands, reputations, and profits.
At the same time, the industry must adopt an ecosystem-based development strategy which satisfactorily resolves the issue of promoting agricultural production on the basis of adaptation to climate change, the minister said.
Such adaptation includes not only boosting infrastructural development but also adjusting agricultural thinking and operation systems on both provincial and district levels throughout the delta.
Doing so, Hoan further explained,will help the Mekong Delta transform into a global brand capable of surviving climate change and other likely challenges.
Minister Hoan’s primary focuses for his tenure rely on the idea of “responsible agriculture” – agricultural development that does not abuse chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents.
He shared that he once asked farmers in Dong Thap Province whether or not they overused chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents in farming production and they just chuckled in response.
The practices of “two-bed vegetables” – one bed of clean vegetables for growers to eat and the other, fed with chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents, for sale – and “two-cage pigs,” one cage of clean swine for breeders and the other, bred with weight gain or leanness-enhancing agents, for sale, are still common in certain areas across the country.
He also blamed excessively intensive farming of up to three paddy crops per year for gradual farmland deterioration because the practice requires farmers to use more chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents.
As such, the practice has harmful long-term impacts on both human health and the land, water, and air.
Children in Da Nang spend one-of-a-kind summer break
As she saw her five-year-old son standing in front of a TV attending his virtual school losing ceremony in late May, Tran Phuong Chi, 36, could not imagine how he would spend the stay-at-home summer break.
Chi’s city, Da Nang, was hit hard by COVID-19 and put under strict lockdown in May.
It was a time when local residents needed day-passes to enter markets.
A lot of restrictions had been lifted before they were reinstated in June given the resurgence of the stubborn coronavirus.
Everything has not yet come back to normalcy.
More challenges, more skills
In previous summers, Chi and her husband traveled with their children or brought them to the countryside before coming back to the city for summer classes.
This year, they can do nothing but stay at their home in Hai Chau District.
Overcoming several COVID-19 waves, Chi’s children got used to studying online with teachers.
The young mother has also developed activities to help them have a not-so-boring summer break.
As she also works from home, it is easier for her to spend more time playing and studying with her children.
At night, nine-years-old Bich Quan, who is Chi’s daughter, is in charge of making a to-do list and schedule for the next day.
Chi gives her some small tasks such as reading a book and then summarizing it for her sibling or mopping the house and revamping her own room.
By completing the tasks, Quan will be rewarded with textbooks, stationary or toys. She also has her brother help to do housework.
After two weeks of summer break, Quan found new interest in watering plants and cooking simple dishes such as fried eggs or soup. Her brother is now responsible for doing the washing-up
|Bich Quan and her brother wash dishes together. Photo: Phuong Chi / Tuoi Tre|
Nong Thi Huong Xuan, 38, in Son Tra District, enjoys her children’s assistance in running an online business.
Working as a TV reporter, Xuan sells organic food as a side job.
Besides helping her children with studying, working out, and doing housework, Xuan instructs them to make fruit advertising clips in English and Vietnamese.
They think up their own ideas and Xuan gives comments on communication skills to help them perfect the final products. She also shows them how to display, weigh, and sell fruits.
“I am sure that they learn something, how to calculate profits and do marketing, for example,” the parent said.
“These experiences help them apply bookish knowledge into reality.”
|Nong Thi Huong Xuan’s children help their mother sort fruits. Photo: H.X. / Tuoi Tre|
Amid the pandemic, Doan Phat Ha, 39, in Lien Chieu District, and his wife still have to go to work.
Worrying that his son would feel lonely staying at home, he connected him with a classmate to spend summer days together.
They have a daily schedule for English study and recreational activities.
Sometimes, he calls home to check whether they are doing well or asks a neighbor to pay a quick visit, reminding them to have lunch and take a nap.
“After work, we ride bikes, play soccer, or fly kites together,” he said.
“These activities help keep my son active and healthy after a long day staying indoors and sitting in front of a monitor.
“It is fun that we have a lot of things to share at dinner time.”
Psychologists warn against forcing children to stay at home all day as they will get irritable.
They might get addicted and negatively affected by overusing computers and other smart devices.
Dr. Nguyen Thi Quy from the psychology department under the Da Nang University of Pedagogy said parents should spend time talking, reading books, and making toys with their children.
Depending on their ages, parents can also ask their children to help with housework as a way to share responsibility and better understand each other.
“To ensure children’s social connection, parents can let them play in small groups with peers who have not traveled from COVID-19-hit areas,” Quy said.
“When they go out, parents should make sure they play within the safe range of pandemic prevention.”
In Vietnam, child thrown out of mother’s womb in tragic accident grows happily
On the way to the hospital after going into labor, a pregnant woman was run over by a concrete mixing transport truck in Vietnam, causing the fetus to be squeezed out of her womb seven years ago.
The tiny unborn baby survived the crash and has grown into a healthy and happy one-legged boy.
It happened on October 25, 2014 in Long Xuyen City, An Giang Province, located in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.
The husband was driving his wife on a motorbike.
The wife died on site. The fetus came out with one leg lost, so did his father.
Following a deep coma, a limb removal operation, the lack of his mother’s milk and warmth, the baby still beat all the odds.
The tin soldier
Despite his tragic birth, Nguyen Quoc Huy has braved the ordeal of having one leg and leads a happy life with his father.
“My job is simply to see him smile each day,” said Nguyen Van Nam, his 39-year-old father, who lives in Cho Moi District, An Giang, which is considered a ‘rice bowl’ in the Mekong Delta.
They keep their chin up although each has only one leg left.
The physical disadvantage did not deter Nam from hard work. Whenever the rice crop season approaches, he is extremely busy.
“During this time the pests are everywhere, so I have to be in the fields all the time,” he said.
“I can hardly be home with my child.
“I miss him a lot, but I can’t leave until everything is properly taken care of.”
Coming home after days apart, the father rushed to embrace his young boy, who clutched him and showered him with kisses on the cheeks.
Huy readily asked his father to buy him a toy water gun at a nearby store.
Now the boy has grown up to be smart, cute, and sociable.
“His mother was still alive when he was forced out,” recalled Nam.
“I looked at her, telling her to pray to the Buddha.
“My son was flung meters away.
“That has been a haunting sight until now.
“It does not bother me, but reminds me of how valuable our lives are.
“I love my son even more every time I think about that incident.”
Following the traffic accident, Huy was admitted to Children’s Hospital 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, while his father was hospitalized at a local place before his transfer to Cho Ray Hospital in the same city.
During his month-long hospitalization, family members kept him in the dark about his son’s condition for fear that it might be too much for him to bear.
|Nguyen Quoc Huy, seven, moves around briskly despite his physical defect. Photo: Thanh Nhon / Tuoi Tre|
Nam only got to visit his baby after his discharge from the hospital.
“A nurse got me a wheelchair. She pushed me to my son’s room,” he said.
“It was a fleeting moment, but I had mixed feelings.
“I was anxious, happy, and distressed.
“I felt sorry for the baby.”
Nam made it back to his hometown as he regained his health. He prayed for his wife there, then returned to Ho Chi Minh City.
The pain of the widower seemed to double seeing his baby with only one leg left.
Yet the man suppressed it all. He had to be both his father and mother.
“It was quite a struggle at first because I lost one leg too, especially when my boy needed his regular health check in Ho Chi Minh City,” Nam said.
“The checks were one week apart at first, then two weeks, then one month, and three months.
“Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out [last year], we haven’t been going to the city anymore.”
Hearing his father mention the term ‘COVID-19’ to a correspondent from Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Huy was quick to comment: “The COVID virus? Don’t go near it, dad! Dangerous!”
Learning to walk with an artificial leg at 11 months old was the toughest task for the young boy.
Watching the baby attempting to get the hang of it and crying out loud due to frustration, even Nam broke down in tears.
The father and son regularly had their health checks and walking lessons at the hospital.
“He could barely walk until two years old. Now, Huy only needs his artificial leg at school,” Nam said.
“He removes it the moment he’s back home.
“He can still run around.
“Unlike me. Without my fake leg, I lose to him every time.”
During his first years of life, Huy was prone to sickness. His father had a few sleepless nights taking him to the doctor.
“Now he’s fine. Sometimes, he cries to get a toy or some new cakes. That’s it,” said his father.
They actually received a donation from a philanthropist after the accident. With that, Nam rebuilt his house and purchased a piece of land in Hon Dat District, Kien Giang Province for use as rice fields.
“I had never owned such a fortune in my life. Thinking about my life now, at times I burst out in tears,” he said.
A father’s hope
In recent days, Nam is deeply involved in his plantation work. He has to take care of the rice plants, the irrigation system, the fertilization process, and then the harvesting.
He needs a good earning for his child’s life.
Nam can be days away from home every ‘business trip’ to the rice fields.
The 60-kilometer distance did not stop him from rushing to Huy for some snuggling, then immediately back to his farm work.
“When the summer comes, he forces me to get him to the field,” Nam said.
“The boy likes to swim. He loves the canal and goes there every afternoon. He got a real tan after several days.”
There are two rice crops every year, according to Nam. From the seventh to the ninth lunar month, commonly known as the ‘floating season’ in the Mekong Delta, he spent all his time with Huy.
“I’d stay with him and teach him to read,” he said.
Huy is enrolled in an elementary school near his home. He gets to school in an electric toy car –quite a curious sight for those seeing him the first time.
Yet that has become too familiar to his teachers and peers.
“At first I drove him to school. It felt dangerous and difficult for him,” Nam said.
“I was worried a lot. What if he got bullied? But luckily, he was nice, so his teachers and friends, and even our neighbors love him and help him a lot.”
According to his father, Huy is a little ‘behind’ his friends in school achievements. However, the boy got encouragement from his father rather than rebuke.
“I myself loved to learn, but my family was poor so I couldn’t get to school,” Nam said.
“So now I have to make sure he gets a good education. I am so pleased to see him make progress.”
Vietnamese IT engineer turns restaurateur, hopes to build culinary career from hometown specialties
Much to his family’s objection, Nguyen Han Thien took it upon himself to quit his high-paying IT job and opened a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, serving iconic dishes from his hometown to realize his childhood dream.
Bidding farewell to his well-paid information technology job at three different companies, including one reputed IT group he had worked for nearly 10 years, Thien charted a new direction for his future and invested his savings in opening a bistro.
He is now the owner of Bep Nguoi Hoi An (Hoi An Kitchen) restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.
The only and hottest items on his restaurant’s menu are com ga (chicken rice) and mi Quang (noodle served with shrimp, pork, peanuts, and banh da nuong, or grilled rice paper wrapper), the specialties of Thien’s hometown in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam.
His restaurant all comes down to Thien’s childhood dream, long-cherished passion for cooking and his years working as a busboy for his mother, who had been running her eatery with the special noodle soup for decades.
Thien, along with his siblings, grew up on earnings from his mother’s eatery while inheriting her sense of detail and infatuation with their hometown’s hallmark soup.
Until now, the man remembers the extra care he took in boiling water on the wood stove for hot, fragrant tea, the drink commonly served to diners.
During his college years, he again found himself immersed in a culinary world centered around delicacies from the central Vietnamese region when he stayed with his distant uncle, whose restaurant made quite a splash in Nha Trang City, a coastal town in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa.
Thien said what he had observed and picked up during that time was just what he needed to turn his childhood dream into reality.
Upon graduation, the young man headed to Ho Chi Minh City, where he landed a financially rewarding gig in information technology, a perfect fit for his college major.
For nearly 10 years, he worked at three different companies, including one big IT group, and won awards for outstanding performance.
Though his office work brought security and a good income, part of him craved change, as the man always dreamed of the day when he could run a restaurant of his own.
Seeing that the iconic dishes from his hometown would become fixtures in the southern metropolis, he bravely quit his job and opened his dream restaurant after meticulously weighing the pros and cons of such a career move.
The man was determined to show how his resolve to pursue his dream has ever grown stronger.
He stood his ground firmly as his mother fiercely rejected his plan to leave the office for a risky venture and all the hard work that would lie ahead.
“The last thing I want for my son is dipping his toes into the restaurant industry and experiencing all the hard work I’ve been through,” said Hang Thi Tam, Thien’s mother.
Without formal training in the hospitality sector, Thien began working out his own formulae and seeking reliable procurement sources, making sure the ingredients and packaging are of high quality and environmentally friendly.
His eatery uses paper packaging instead of single-use plastic boxes.
“The restaurant is funded by my savings from my previous working years,” Thien shared.
“When the time came, I quit my IT job to focus solely on my current business.”
The enterprising man is already on his path, sparked by his long-cherished dream, with his restaurant now bringing in enough cash for him to feel financially secure.
But it was not an easy start, especially when his inauguration came during the social distancing period, which was in place in the metropolis and other localities to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak last year.
During the low season, Thien’s eatery became a haunt of poor laborers whose livelihood was disrupted by the social distancing measures.
They came to the eatery to receive gift packs of necessities, with the fund donated by Thien himself and his like-minded friends.
Thien is no stranger to charity work.
For the past several years, he and his group have prepared gratis meals for inpatients and their caretaker relatives at local hospitals on a regular basis.
Whenever he had no time to spare, Thien made donations to support his group’s good deeds.
His eatery has successfully tapped into takeout and online ordering business to cope with the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic since its opening more than one year ago.
Business is currently good thanks to online food shopping and delivery amid the country’s fourth and most ravaging outbreak.
In pursuit of more consumers, Thien has made the most of his IT expertise and SEO techniques to make sure his restaurant and dishes always come first on search engines.
“We’ve survived the pandemic so far and attracted a stable following,” Thien said proudly.
“My restaurant is raking in profits and I no longer have to offset losses as we did during the first few months.”
Thien’s eatery is also frequented by many of his friends.
“Thien’s restaurant attracts customers not necessarily for its good food, but rather for his dedication and eye for detail,” noted Du Tran Nhat Quang, from Thien’s charity group.
“His attention to detail is clearly seen in his sophisticated interior décor, which reminds us of Hoi An Ancient Town, and the extra mile he goes to in preparing the delicacies.
“The place is also a haunt of friends.”
Spurred on by this success, Thien even dreams of going ‘large scale’ and stretching far and wide.
“As my childhood dream is taking shape, I’m charting a new direction for the future,” the former IT engineer shared.
“I’m thinking of opening a chain of eateries in Ho Chi Minh City, offering a range of delicacies from my hometown.”
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