Nguyen Vu Minh Quan, an RMIT graduate with a background in tourism,started an educational, environmentally friendly farm. Bo Xuan Hiep spoke with Quan about his business, through which he hopes to raise awareness aboutsustainable agriculture practices.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell about Sunny Farm?
Sunny Farm, which was established in September 2012, is a 1.5ha outdoor teaching facility located on the outskirts of HCM City, 45km from the city centre.
Our activities are designed for various age groups. All the activities are aimed at letting participants fully understand and connect with all the experiences they have at the farm.
Our education model takes participants through six stages of learning and attaining the outcomes of each stage, from observation to understanding life fulfillment.
Our mission is to provide a safe playground for children and inspire participants to take action to protect the environment.
Inner Sanctum: Why do you decide to establish Sunny Farm?
I got a bachelor's degree in commerce from RMIT Viet Nam and an MBA in tourism and hospitality from the Australian Institute of Business. After working for a few years in large multinational companies, mainly in agricultural commodities, I saw a huge potential market in combining education, farming and tourism.
There is urgent need to take action to inspire others to keep their farm and environment more sustainable for future generations. There is a detachment between humans and nature, many youths don't know where their food comes from. This is why we decided to found Sunny Farm; our purpose was to close the gap between humans and nature.
Inner Sanctum: What do you expect people to learn from the farm?
What we want to offer youth is inspiration of having a farm. We created Sunny Farm with various contemporary farming practices to show participants that agriculture is not necessarily associated with menial work but can instead be enjoyable and profitable.
Our programmes also emphasise how to tackle environmental issues like littering, climate change, and overuse of harmful fungicides and pesticides. Depending on the group size and ages, Sunny Farm delivers different messages through various activities to ensure they are well received.
We first want to create a model of clean environment to demonstrate and inspire participants to take action. By letting participants enjoy what they see, harvest, cook and share, they learn the value and reward of work.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think are the key challenges facing agriculture in Viet Nam?
There are many key challenges, and there is one thing that probably creates the whole chain of issues.
Farmers' lack of education acts a big hurdle for them in acquiring further knowledge and keeping up with the changes happening globally. I have been working with farmers for years, and the biggest obstacle to deliver a clear message to them is the fact that we lack a common language. Most farmers in Viet Nam, despite being hardworking, have very little exposure to market information and consumers. Because of this, they are facing difficulties in choosing the optimum volume of output to cope with the market demand to maximise their return on investment. As a consequence, farmers suffer losses through poor investment of time and resources.
A minority of farmers have adapted and moved towards organic farming, but they face many dilemmas in getting the right certification and resources to carry on organic farming. For instance, a period of three years is required for the transition from conventional to organic farming, according to US Department of Agriculture norms.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think of organic agricultural practices in particular?
Pursuing organic farming and standards is not our aim; there are differences between natural farming and organic farming. However, organic agricultural practices will play a major role in the Viet Nam market sooner or later. Though the number of people who are truly aware of health problems from contaminated produce is still low, it is increasing rapidly. The market is demanding safer produce and especially information about produce origin. This shift will force farmers to adapt however difficult it is.
Inner Sanctum: Can we apply organic agricultural practices in Viet Nam?
The majority of farms in Viet Nam are owned by small households. To be certified as an organic producer is not an easy task, and it takes time and investment to get certified. The standards and practices are also complicated for small household farmers to cope with. I guess this is the biggest obstacle to organic farming in Viet Nam.
I think to bring in experts and advisors to hold informative workshops on how to apply these standards effectively will improve adoption of organic farming. The other way is to bring in organic volunteer farmers from around the globe. Only through interaction and exposure will farmers find their own way to develop and adapt to the change. — VNS