In the past, farmers saved indigenous seeds that were well adapted to local climatic conditions in order to get enough food and sustain their life. At that time, abundant natural resources were crucial to human survival. Our ancestors cooperated together and developed technologies to continue using indigenous seeds. This experience has been handed down to us so that we now also enjoy a rich and varied diet.
However, with the advent of widespread monoculture over the past 50 years, hybrid seed varieties have become widely accepted. Expansion of large food industries has pushed indigenous seeds to the brink of survival.
We believe that conserving indigenous seeds not only enriches our food and therefore our lives, but also helps protect biodiversity and traditional cultures.
Seed to Table works to conserve this legacy and pass on indigenous varieties, natural resources that nurture crops, and people’s knowledge and culture to future generations.
To accomplish this, it is essential to understand the lives of people who are the keepers of indigenous seeds right now. For instance, do they have sustainable livelihoods, are resources they need guaranteed to them, is there a sufficient cooperation for them to collaborate long-term.
Cooperation among different stakeholders to solve common problems is also needed. People living in the city can support the people who keep and utilize indigenous seeds so that they can continue to promote the quality of food which provides the nutrition they need to stay healthy.
Based on this idea, Seed to Table will identify indigenous varieties and use them while promoting ecologically friendly agriculture and sound natural resource management practices. We also want to create opportunities for city people and those in rural areas to understand and cooperate with each other, and for young and older generations to share traditional culture and knowledge.
Vietnam is agricultural country. The volume of rice and coffee exports are the second highest in the world. Farmers make up 60% of the population, and 70% of the population lives in the countryside. However, farmers cannot get enough cash income from agriculture. Natural resources that support the farmers’ livelihoods, such as water, soil, and forest, are also gradually declining due to development and local seed varieties are being lost to hybrid varieties.
Since the Vietnamese government launched the so-called ‘Doi Moi’ (or ‘renovation’) program of economic reform in 1986, and the beginnings of a market system emerged, the wealth gap between the city and rural area has rapidly widened. Rural youth started going to the city to find work, and many villages have lost the important social structures of mutual cooperation which have always handed down traditional culture or knowledge.
However, some villagers have tried to improve their livelihoods in order to stabilize their economies by protecting the natural resources and traditional culture in their village, and teaching the children. Seed to Table has met those people and started its activities to encourage and support them.
Vietnamese people have cooperated and developed knowledge, technology and management systems to protect indigenous seeds, natural resources and traditional culture, to enhance food and livelihood security, and to live in harmony with each other and with their natural environment.
We are working with many different stakeholders including farmers, local and national government staff, academics, and companies in order to enhance mutual cooperation. This is an essential basis for real solutions to common problems. Our specific activities over the next three years include the following:
The economic policy of Doi Moi (or ‘renovation’) was introduced in 1986 and marked the beginning of Vietnam’s transition to a market economy. However, in the process of achieving remarkable economic growth for the nation, this shift has also brought about many negative environmental impacts. Because Vietnam’s economy and society are still largely dependent on agriculture, it is crucial to protect natural resources and preserve the unique local plant varieties which support the health of local ecosystems. Rivers, mountains and paddy fields are the source of food and medicines for both humans and animals, and raw materials for tools, housing and energy. Therefore, protecting natural resources is directly related to securing the lives of humans.
Seed to Table projects introduce locally specific and eco-friendly techniques to local communities, and demonstrate the important role local varieties play in the lives of all people in the project area.
Farming communities must continually develop their local economy and protect diverse ecosystems to sustain their lives and society in rural areas. In doing this, however, it is crucial to recognize the role played by local culture in preserving traditional knowledge and shared ethnic identity. In our work, Seed to Table’s first steps are to work with local people, especially children and youth, to identify these relationships to find out what kind of plants, insects, small creatures, and animals live in mountains and rivers. We ask questions. Which plants and animals are grown, used and eaten, and by whom? Where does the water come from and go to? Are there local craftspeople and other specialists? How do local people cooperate and help each other?
With this understanding of the local context, Seed to Table works with communities to develop educational programs designed to raise the awareness of others about the cultural basis of their relationship to nature. The program is managed by local people themselves, so that it develops to reflect the locally-specific nature of this relationship.
About 70% of Vietnam’s population lives in rural areas and 60% of them are engaged in agriculture, mostly as small-scale farmers. The important issues for Vietnamese farmers right now are how to manage smallholdings efficiently and effectively and how to add more value in situ, to what they produce. This increases income for producers and allows them to reinvest in certain commodity production. This is particularly critical in the Mekong Delta as the incidence of landlessness there is rising and the need for non-farm employment is increasing dramatically. To enhance economic development, Seed to Table has programs to expand the capacity and technology of producers to process consumer items locally, and thereby link these smallholder farmers with landless households to create employment opportunities for men and women.
Taking these linkages to the next level, Seed to Table has recognized that consumers in Vietnam’s cities are increasingly concerned with finding safe and good quality foods to eat on a daily basis. This situation hampers their ability to make healthy lifestyle choices and even threatens the health of their children in the future. Seed to Table has created a network to link these consumers to those producing agricultural products through eco-friendly farming. This network connects farmers, consumers, intermediate traders and even chefs living in the city, to build mutual trust and cooperation on a sustainable basis. By doing so, consumers can get good and safe food and farmers can get more cash income. With an urban population of around 30 million people, this network can help promote business development for rural producers, but also promote healthy lifestyle choices and raise awareness of environmental issues.
In addition, we create opportunities for farmers to share experience and act as a ‘bridge’ between Japanese and Vietnamese people to enhance friendship and cooperation and deepen mutual understanding.
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