|Multiskilled: Nguyen Thi Thuy Kieu (right) has many strings to her bow. Training in research enables her to read books on other subject of interest to farmers and to branch out into many fields. Here she introduce a farmer to new techniques in raising snakes.
|Practised eye: Kieu spends most of her time in the field. — VNS Photo Thanh Xuan
The answer lies in the soil for at least one farming graduate who turned down a career as a university lecturer and researcher to work on the land, helping farmers lift production. Thanh Xuan
reports.Nguyen Thi Thuy Kieu, an agricultural engineer who graduated from Can Tho University, spends most of her time in the field.
When Kieu graduated from the University's Farming Faculty, she was given a chance to stay there to teach and conduct research alongside her lecturers. But she decided to leave her academic surroundings to help rural farmers.
Kieu has changed the lives of many farmers in Vi Thanh, a district in the southern province of Hau Giang where she currently lives and works.
"The work of an agricultural engineer is very difficult, especially for a woman," Kieu said. "But my efforts are rewarded when I win the farmers' trust after helping solve their problems."
Kieu was born in a poor family. Her father died when she was very young, and she and her mother were left to take care of her grandmother, a wounded soldier, and her aunt, an Agent Orange victim. The family of four women was able to eke out a living by farming.
Since then, Kieu has appreciated both how important plants can be and how hard farmers must work to make a living from them. That's why she determined to pursue an agricultural career and devote her life to farmers and fields.
To fulfill her dream of being an agricultural engineer, Kieu had to work hard to earn money for living and studying.
In her last year of university, she got the chance to join fact-finding trips where she observed farmers at work. She realised most of them lacked both money and experience. Even if they could afford to invest in new technology that would modernize the production process, many didn't know how to do so - greatly hindering their productivity.
"The farmers not only have to work hard to make products, they also suffer pressure to lower prices from traders and the market," Kieu said.
When she graduated in 2008, she was recruited to work at the Hau Giang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Professor Nguyen Bao Ve from the Can Tho University, Kieu's teacher, said he soon noticed her creativity and enthusiasm.
"Kieu has extensive professional knowledge and passion for scientific research. She's never satisfied with just one achievement," Ve said. "Realising that she has the makings of a great researcher, the university's directory board and I decided to give Kieu an opportunity to stay at the university to work as a lecturer and our co-researcher."
"Research is a good way to help develop agriculture, but Kieu is descended from farmers and feels a strong connection to them, so she decided to work directly with farmers. I respect her decision."
Whenever her teacher comes to Hau Giang Province, Kieu consults him on how best to help farmers increase productivity.
Kieu was assigned to equip farmers with techniques to raise crop yields and save input money.
"The work requires professional skills and experience. It's not easy for a technician who's fresh from university like me," Kieu said. "In the beginning, the farmers didn't trust me."
But Kieu tried her best to get closer to the local farmers because she knew that if she didn't win their trust, they wouldn't follow her instructions.
She planned to work on the same timetable as the farmers to accommodate herself to their habits. When the farmers go to the field at 5am, she also starts working.
Now, the young researcher rolls up her sleeves and wades through the mud with the farmers to see how plants grow and discover pestilent insects.
"While working with the farmers, I listen to them, understand them and then pass on their ideas and expectations to local authorities," she said. "Together with the farmers, I can come up with suitable techniques to improve production."
The close relations between Kieu and the Hau Giang farmers were strengthened when she got married to a local farmer. Even when Kieu was pregnant, she maintained her habit of going to the fields in the early morning and coming home only when night fell.
Although Kieu was trained in the field of plants, she also spent time on her own researching breeding methods to help farmers increase profits. She introduced the farmers to new techniques for raising snakes, fish and chicken in order to help them diversify their offerings.
"Kieu helps local farmers deploy new technology, experiment with new varieties and prevent diseases in plants and animals to increase productivity and save money," said Cao Hoang Chau, chairman of Vi Tan Commune Association of Farmers.
"She also co-ordinates training courses and establishes clubs for farmers in order to create a place for them to support each other," he said.
Now, Hau Giang has become her second homeland. Her tireless work and enthusiasm have helped her win people's hearts and gradually improve the local agriculture. — VNS