Swimming upstream to “Narrow The Gap” – A story of organic cooperative IEM GÕH Churu

The journey to conduct a local community project from ideation to execution is an effort-taking and challenging one. The gap between intention, planning and actualisation is also derived from financial obstacles, farming habits, human power, soil, weather conditions, etc. For each community to successfully carry out their projects that aim for their needs, understanding the mentioned difficulties to devise the suitable approach when connecting with the community is an important factor in collaborating towards a successful and sustainable project.

From the early days of establishment, LIN Center has clearly defined our direction in connecting communities to address local demands and fully utilize local resources. Since then, LIN has continuously strived to strengthen the community-based volunteering ecosystem to contribute to the sustainable development in Vietnam.

The story of IEM GÕH Churu Organic Vegetable Co-operative project in the Narrow the Gap Community Fund 2021 is a story of courage to swim upstream to seeking for an organic farming model operated by 11 households in Churu community in Ma Danh village – Tu Tra commune – Don Duong district – Lam Dong province.

Our readers, let’s sit down with LIN, listen to the inspirational story of IEM GÕH Churu Organic Vegetable Co-operative and discover the power of crossed paths- what connections can do. 

 

The bond between the motherland and the people of Churu

Churu people are an ethnic group among 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, mainly living in Lam Dong province. The Chu Ru live and cultivate on the basis of a long-establishing agricultural tradition. For a long time, the Churu community has lived with the spirit of love and mutual helping, living together in a village and farming. Churu ancestors live in harmony with nature, on their land there are always enough nutritious native vegetables and fruits to provide for the family and share with everyone around. They grow vegetables with only manure, the soil is fertile; therefore, they have harvested fine and fresh vegetables and fruits.

“It is the motherland that feeds our forefathers like mother’s milk feeds our children” – Team Leader of the Organic Vegetable Cooperative Group IEM GÕH Churu sharing with LIN.

The disadvantage of monoculture farming model in modern life

Although modern agriculture has delivered a lot of productivity to farming, it also comes with health and environmental consequences of the excessive use of chemical fertilizer and products. When entering modern life, monoculture farming adheres to productivity, causing people to invest too much in new varieties, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Because of following the market trend, Churu people’s products have deteriorated in value despite being in good season. Additionally, if they gain in price, they would lose their harvest, in some seasons they have to give up the whole crop of vegetables that have come to be harvested, and farming households fall into an endless cycle. The vicious cycle is borrowing money to buy pesticides – harvesting to pay off debt – taking out debt to buy pesticide for the next season.

The widespread and irrational use of chemical fertilizers, especially herbicides, also leads to increasingly hardened arable land, polluted water, and downward effect on the environment.

The health of farmers and consumers is also seriously threatened by eating and consuming contaminated agricultural products.

The time fund for visiting and helping neighbors and doing other chores is also limited because people have to work constantly to pay debts to fertilizer stores, first-time traders and the private investors.

Confronting the “work-invest-debt” wheel, a bold decision was made by a group of Churu people. Leaving behind expensive monoculture farming, which is harmful to both the land and human health, the Churu people decided to switch to an organic farming model. Organic vegetable cooperative group IEM GÕH Churu (IEM GÕH in Churu is “clean vegetables”) was established, including 11 Churu ethnic households cultivating organic vegetables in Ma Danh – Tu Tra – Don Duong – Lam Dong operating in an area of ​​more than 7,000 m2.

With a chemical-free farming method and making use of locally available materials (seeds, manure, agricultural by-products, homemade products, …), intercropping, multi-cropping to create ecological balance. The project focuses on agricultural production associated with ensuring the health of people, the land, and the ecosystem as well. 

Difficulties when shifting into new models

When accepting to swim upstream to develop organic vegetable farming in the midst of a monoculture farming area, the group faced many challenges in the process of transforming, inspiring, convincing and retaining households in the community. When following this direction of cultivation, farmers confront many difficulties because they are not used to natural farming, the yield is lower than when farming with chemicals, and the output is not stable since it heavily depends on the weather conditions.

In addition, problems such as pests, inadequate soil nutrients due to previous chemical farming processes, sources of revenue to purchase output products, … also cause many difficulties for farmers. Finding specific markets for organic products and distributing was also a challenge for the team. These are also the reasons why many people who are pursuing this new model, give up halfway and return to monoculture farming, using chemical fertilizers.

In fact, the tastes of consumers who eat organic vegetables and other ordinary consumers also have a similarity that they want vegetables to be in great shape and tubers to be smooth. Therefore, the number of vegetables and fruits that meet nutritional quality standards but are not eye-catching in shape cannot be sold to the market. On the other hand, there are some products that are in season during the year. High productivity has caused an overwhelming inventory of goods that cannot be sold out. The quantity sold is just enough to cover the input and labor costs. The part of the discarded product is the profit of the farmers, so now they only take the work to make a profit without making actual profit from these harvested crops. This situation makes the income of the people at some point volatile.

With the situation ahead, the Churu community cannot help but regret the effort spent and wonder how to overcome this difficult and precarious situation. The solution agreed by the group is to invest in an organic fruit and vegetable dryer to handle the backlog due to unattractive crops. This is a practical solution because dried fruits and vegetables have higher economic value and are easier to preserve than fresh ones. At the same time, having more products from the organic vegetable garden also helps the group reduce the pressure of having to quickly sell fresh onions that cannot be stored.

Through connections with local organizations, the IEM GÕH Churu Organic Vegetable Co-operative Group knew about the presence of LIN and the Narrow the Gap Community Fund in 2021. During the application period, the group was supported by a team of technical experts to write project proposals. Realizing the urgent nature of the project proposal, the Reviewing Panel of the Narrow the Gap Community Fund 2021 has nominated the IEM GÕH Churu Organic Vegetable Cooperation Group as one of the excellent projects. Since then, LIN has connected the Cooperative Group with an external sponsor to provide the necessary resources, assist the team in purchasing a dryer, building a factory, and further developing its project.

It is estimated that drying 400-500kg of fresh fruit and vegetables that are stored less than a month will help people’s income increase by 30-40%. By doing so, the income is more stable, the group can rest assured to produce and expand the farming area as well as spreading this farming method to many other households. In addition, year-round dried vegetables are also environmentally friendly products, good for consumers’ health and solve the needs of customers for using out-of-season fruits and vegetables.

The products of IEM GÕH Churu Organic Vegetable Partnership are temperate and tropical fruits and vegetables that are not only good for health but also nurtured from love of the environment, love of nature, and love of the motherland herself.

About Narrow the Gap Community Fund

Narrow the Gap is developed on the premise of “Community-based Volunteering” with the belief that every community has its own assets (money, skills, knowledge, networks,…), and when these assets are brought together, they build community strength and voice.

In 2022, the Community Fund Narrow the Gap was launched with the message “More crossed paths for greater social impacts.” The crossed path is a place where different parties connect, a meeting point of new relationships, from individual to individual, community to community, and industry to industry. Each individual has his or her own crossed path at which you can open turning points. By realizing the influence we have, each person will create meaningful crossed paths by learning, understanding, sharing or participating in philanthropic activities.

For LIN, crossed paths are an important factor in building a community-based volunteering ecosystem, and the Community Fund Narrow the Gap is a great effort to create those crossed paths between the public, corporates and the non-profit community.

Therefore, LIN is very pleased to announce the launching of the Narrow the Gap Community Fund in 2022 with the message “More crossed path for greater social impacts ” with a total fund of up to 900 million VND.

LIN looks forward to accompanying community projects and creating more crossed paths, multiplying the influence similar to the how IEM GÕH Churu Organic Vegetable Cooperative has “narrowed the gap” on the journey to maintain their organic farming model

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