Viet Nam News
Every two weeks, a box full of frozen food and some vegetable is delivered to my doorstep. Inside the box, I always find of small note with my mom’s handwriting: “Do not dine out, try to cook as much as possible!”
With a daughter 500km from her hometown, what worries my mom the most is my eating habits. Stay away from toxic foods, I can hear her say. Follow a healthy diet.
So to make sure I’m eating writing, mom with cook fish and meat, freeze it and pack it into a box and send my way via an express coach.
My mother thinks diseases hide everywhere, especially in food.
And it seems she’s not wrong. Last week pesticide residue was found in the blood of 85 per cent of farmers tested in the northern province of Hà Nam. The results were released by the National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health under Ministry of Health.
Check-ups in Hà Nội also showed similar results. More than half of 67 farmers tested had been exposed to pesticides.
With 70 per cent of population working in the agricultural sector, pesticide exposure seems to be inevitable in Việt Nam.
According to Việt Nam Customs, the country spent nearly US$210 million to import insecticide, mostly from China in the first quarter of this year.
As many as 1,700 types of pesticide substances formulated in more than 4,000 products circulate on Việt Nam’s market. A huge amount of synthetic fertilisers is also used on the country’s fields and farms.
And it’s not just farmers who have direct contact with chemicals. Consumers living in urban areas can be exposed.
Professor Nguyễn Duy Thịnh from Hà Nội University of Science and Technology said pesticide exposure is a delay-action bomb as it kills people from the inside in a long period of time.
Therefore, my mom, just like many other caring (and worrying) Vietnamese mothers, try to protect our family by only buying food from sellers she trusts. She knows for sure where those farmers take seeds from, how they cultivate their crops, what they feed their pigs and cows, and more importantly, whether their kids eat the food they sell.
She even has a herb and vegetable garden, raises chicken for eggs and exchanges with her friends for more variety.
Even when mom’s food is not enough if I’m having visitors around to eat, my mother will insist I buy anything extra from supermarkets as it’s safer, she believes.
However, not so many Vietnamese people have time and a spare area to plant vegetable at home and not all of them can afford to buy food at grocery store. Fresh markets are still an indispensable part in Vietnamese people’s daily life and farmers, as heads of supply chains, should be the ones to make change.
But in reality, that’s not as easy as it sounds.
Nguyễn Thị Nhung in the central province of Quảng Trị, a dedicated farmer my family has known for a long time, told me it was not easy to practise sustainable agriculture.
While she says no to all kinds of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, her neighbours do use them. Residual substances leak into the common irrigation system and absorb into land.
“One way or another, you will be always affected (by pesticides),” she said.
To beat this, Nhung farms up on an isolated hill, to set up a so-called experimental garden. There, she raises chicken and uses chicken manure to make organic fertiliser. Nhung also grows different types of vegetable by the season and plants some fruit trees. By reducing the contact with chemicals to zero, she has to pay more effort in protecting her garden from pests. The results, however, are positive with fresh fruits, nutritious eggs and tasted-like-heaven veggies.
Nhung saves the majority of products for her family and sells the rest to some of her acquaintances including my mom.
Her larger farm in which she avoids using pesticides offers good products as well but the market, at first, seems not so welcoming.
“Customers are easily attracted by shiny, catchy looking products. As my tomatoes are not even, my rice is quite brown, my sweet potatoes are small, they don’t buy,” she said.
Fortunately, Quảng Trị Province Women’s Union launches an initiative to help dedicated farmers like Nhung to have better accesses to the market. Their products are gathered and sold at a stall of clean food in front of the union’s office. They also join training courses on food safety and clean agriculture.
“By helping them approach the market, we hope farmers pay more attention on practising sustainable agriculture. At the same time, we encourage customers to support local products as their attitudes pretty much affect the way farmers cultivate,” said Thục Nữ, the union’s officer.
High-tech and smart agriculture is an emerging trend in Việt Nam, attracting huge investments from both domestic and international enterprises. On a smaller scale, Vietnamese farmers in rural areas are still the main force in the sector. Therefore, they should also be the game changers in the fight against agricultural chemicals.
Once they know their products which are cultivated carefully without spraying pesticides are welcomed by the market, they will be more willing to grow crops in the sustainable way, for them, their localities and customers.
And that will put an end for the overuse of pesticides in agriculture.
I wish one day, I can freely buy food at any fresh market all over Việt Nam without questioning about its origin.
Until then I’ll wait every two week’s for my mom’s box. And I know it will be full of “quà quê”, hometown goodness as Vietnamese people call it, instead of worries. — VNS