Du is a 61-year-old farmer in Son My Commune, Vietnam. His family owns 10 hectares of land planted with acacia, which he has spent most of his life caring for. Until now, Du never thought that he would manage his acacia plantation any differently than he has been most of his life.
Each year in June - when the rainy season starts in Son My - acacia farmers start to prepare their land for planting season, so that the rain can water newly-planted trees. Missing the rainy season means they have to wait a whole year, as any trees planted outside this window will not survive.
There is a buzz of activity to prepare the land for the next season. Trees and leaves are burned, leaving the air dry and smoky. Stumps are pulled and removed, with noisy engines ploughing the land. These are the sights and sounds at most farms in Son My.
But at another farm, something completely different is happening.
At Du's farm, where 1.1 out of his 10 hectares is being prepared for replanting, there was no burning of leaves and small branches; no removal of stumps nor ploughing. Residue from the previous harvest - leaves, bark and small branches - was kept. This was to control erosion, boost soil microbial activity and fertility, and provide nutrients for the next rotation of trees; all just by improving organic-matter levels. Contrary to the cultivation habits of most farmers, including Du himself, no machinery was used and most of the work was done by hand.
"Though Du said he would be testing what he had learnt from our study tours and training, we were quite surprised with the results being this quick," said Dale Garner, who leads Earthworm's work in Vietnam.
Since the beginning of 2020, Du has been part of Earthworm's Son My Acacia Growing Club, where he took part in study tours to learn about sustainable forest management at the Forestry Science Institute of Southern Vietnam (FSIS). This planting season, Du was the first farmer in Son My to apply the practices he learnt and use high-quality seedlings recommended by the FSIS and Earthworm to improve yield. As for the rest of his 10 hectares, Du has made firebreaks inside and around the boundary to protect against wildfire - a significant risk during the dry season.
As part of the Son My Acacia Growing Club, Du has also learnt how to estimate the value of his acacia plantation - making it easier for him to negotiate with traders. This methodology was developed by Earthworm to maximise the marketing potential of acacia farmers, and it has been shared among the community.
"Earthworm's training has taught us to improve our yield and reduce our labor cost," Du said. "Now, I can get high-quality seedlings; which wasn't possible before."
The productivity of smallholder farms in Son My is threatened by low soil quality in a naturally sandy coastal region. This is getting worse by-the-day because of farming methods that involve burning harvest residue, which reduces farmers' yield by up to 20 percent with each rotation. This is equal to “one lost rotation for every four or five harvests”.
"Farmers like Du, who are willing to learn and change, are the pioneers who can inspire other farmers in the community," Garner said.
Through its Rurality programme, Earthworm Foundation has been working with acacia farmers in Nestlé’s supply chain in Vietnam since 2017. Rurality was launched globally in 2015 to drive transformation and innovation among farmers; with the mission of empowering farmers to strengthen their resilience and improve their livelihoods.
If you are interested to learn more about how your company can support acacia smallholders in your supply chain, contact Earthworm Foundation at email@example.com.