Life After Moving Companies

What is Really Going on with Moving Companies

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What You Must Know About Moving Companies

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Caus magic mushrooms

How a challenge fund is helping poor farmers in the mountains of Vietnam

Pham Thi Cau is a poor farmer in the mountainous area of Yen Bai in northern Vietnam. For years, she struggled to improve her life. But now, thanks to the Vietnam Challenge Fund programme, supported by UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID), Cau is starting up her own business to produce high quality mushrooms, at the age of 67.

Daily struggle to make ends meet

Cau is a widower and she lives on her own. Her husband passed away many years ago, and all her five children had moved out and settled elsewhere. She earned her living by growing rice and vegetables in a small plot.

“It was just enough to make my ends meet,” she recalls. “Life was really tough.”

Cau also tried different ways to increase her income, including growing acacia, but, with limited resources of cash and labour, the result was not what she had hoped.

In 2009, her total annual income was just £50, topped up by rice and vegetables grown on her small plot of land.

A turning point

The Vietnam Challenge Fund (VCF) was introduced to poor farmers in Yen Bai through a private company whose initiative was to produce high quality mushroom for commercial sales. UK aid funded 49% of the required investment for this project.

Cau was in the first farmer group to join this programme. Although growing mushrooms is not something new in the area, local people, including Cau, mainly grew it for their own consumption.

To change this practice, VCF helped introduce new technology to produce and sell high quality mushrooms – from cultivation to packaging, branding, marketing, and distribution. This approach helped farmers get much greater returns for their efforts.

Cau was then provided with a complete package to start up her business, including inputs needed for production and thorough training for the whole process.

Mushrooming income

Her entire plot has now been given over to mushroom cultivation, hanging some 6,000 mushroom bags. After the first season, Cau received a net income of £330 (ten million Vietnam dong) from just two types of mushroom.

She’s proud of what she has achieved. “This is the first time ever in my life that I have in hand such a big amount of cash,” she says.

A promising future

As growing mushrooms is not as hard as other farming work, Cau is planning to expand the business with more mushroom bags and mushroom varieties. She isn’t worried about the additional labour for this expansion, as members of the farmer group are always able to lend each other a helping hand.

Together with Cau, 150 households in the area are benefiting from this initiative with 300 related jobs being created. Their income is expected to increase by at least 30%.

Cau is looking forward to a bright future: “My life has changed a lot since I started this business. So I will continue growing mushrooms, even after the completion of this project, in order to have a stable income and a better life.”


Community-based approach in rural road maintenance and its opportunities for New Rural Development Program

On 21 and 22 November 2011, a workshop was held in Hanoi to look at community-based approaches in Rural Road Maintenance and its opportunities for the New Rural Development Program.

The workshop was held under the framework of the Making Markets Work Better for the Poor II project (M4P2) and links closely to the researches currently being undertaken in the Policy Action Research Component. M4P2 is supported by the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom (UK) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The rural road network plays a crucial role in the economic development in Vietnam, accounting for a substantial portion of the total road system (over 80% of Vietnam’s road network of 256,684km are rural roads), and facilitates the economic activities of around 76% of the population. However it is still beset with problems due to poor surface quality, narrow width, with many sections of these roads remaining in a poor state of repair, whilst roads in several thousand communes can only be used in dry season.

The deterioration of rural roads has far reaching long-term economic consequences, impact, especially on the poor – Research undertaken in Viet Nam revealed that poor households living in rural communes with paved roads had a 67% higher probability of escaping poverty than those in communes without paved roads. Furthermore, maintenance ensures that these benefits are maintained over time to the benefit of the poor. According to a World Bank study undertake in the 1990s, every dollar spent on maintenance saves 4 dollars on rehabilitation.

“The provision of rural roads throughout Vietnam has been improved much, however, the job of maintaining these crucial rural roads have been less of a priority in the past. We hope that the involvement of the New Rural Development Programme will address this issue and ease some of the constraints of remoteness, and through maintenance continue to support efforts to reduce poverty in these areas” said Mr. Doan Tho Nam, representative of the Ministry of Planning and Investment – chairman of the workshop.

In comparison to institutional models for management of other sectors such as rural water supply, rural road maintenance models are currently facing severe funding problems. On average each district provides 10 million VND per commune per year for the operation and maintenance of rural roads and small irrigation schemes. However it is estimated that the necessary budget is in the order of 45 million VND per commune per year, although this figure rapidly increases for more remote areas.

“We’ are very pleased that so many different stakeholders working in community-based rural road maintenance were able to attend the seminar. This was a great opportunity to share experiences of community-based rural road maintenance development in Vietnam, explore the opportunities for policy change and discuss further steps for the testing and scaling up of successful pilot schemes,” said Buddhika Samarasinghe, Team Leader of M4P2 project.

”The initiatives discussed in the workshop, in conjunction with research work undertaken by the M4P2 project could help fill a gap in the New Rural Development Program in terms of community-based rural road maintenance. These do not only bring the strongest positive impact for the poorest households, but also provide them with higher probability of escaping poverty and benefit from Vietnam’s continued economic growth,” said Dao Viet Dung, Senior Public sector Management Officer of the Asian Development Bank.

Under the framework of M4P2 project, the Policy Action Research component will aim to learn the lessons from the current experience and work with the New Village Programme to support a number of rural road maintenance models, including those implemented in Kien Giang, Hoa Binh and Ben Tre Provinces.


UK Minister of State Alan Duncan opens an innovative coffee processing facility in Dak Lak province, Vietnam

The first smallholder-owned and operated coffee washing station in Vietnam was opened today by UK Minister of State, Department for International Development, The Right Honourable Alan Duncan.

Mr. Duncan opened the facility, which is the result of a highly innovative business project co-funded by the Vietnam Challenge Fund.  It is being implemented by Dak Man Vietnam, in collaboration with a coffee-growing cooperative in the Ea Kiet commune of Dak Lak province.

Although Vietnam has become the world’s second largest producer and exporter of coffee in the world, the majority of its output is natural robusta (with relatively minimal processing), typically grown by smallholder farms. The resulting problem of quality inconsistency and minimal processing limits the price at which Vietnamese-grown coffee – which is mostly treated as a bulk low value product – trades in the international market.  And this in turn constrains the incomes of smallholder coffee farmers.

While this dilemma has been widely recognized for some time, a solution has proved elusive, at least until now. This innovative facility is the first smallholder-owned and operated coffee washing station in Vietnam, and the coffee it will process is also Fair Trade certified.

“It is key that Vietnam’s coffee farmers get the proper value from the coffee they produce. At this DFID-funded coffee project, farmers are adding value to the beans they grow, through sorting, washing and drying. And in so doing, improving the livelihoods of their families. I hope that this project can be an example to other coffee growers in Vietnam, and that it will serve as a model,” said Mr. Alan Duncan.

The facility aims to produce 350 tons of Fairtrade semi-washed coffee by the end of 2011. If successful, this project could play a leading role in the development of a significant new market segment for value added Vietnamese coffee in the international market.

“We see this as an important new step for the coffee industry in Vietnam,” noted Jonathan Clark, Managing Director of Dak Man. “Our hope is that this project will herald a new niche for Vietnamese coffee in the international market,” said Mr Clark, “and that both our company and the commune members will mutually benefit.”

“We are extremely excited by this project,” said Buddhika Samarasinghe, Team Leader of M4P2.  “For a relatively modest amount of money, the Vietnam Challenge Fund is helping to catalyse a major change in the way coffee is processed and traded in Vietnam.  If the project proves to be a success, we envisage it being replicated in many other areas of the country, and thus have a significant impact on the rural poor”, he added.

More than 550,000 households derive their living from coffee growing in Vietnam, and the lives of around two million Vietnamese are dependent on coffee. Approximately 95% of the coffee grown in Vietnam is exported, and was valued at roughly US$1.7bn in 2010.

This coffee project is one of the 11 projects being supported by the Vietnam Challenge Fund (VCF), a component of Making Markets Work Better for the Poor, Phase 2 (M4P2). M4P2 is a project managed by ADB and funded by UK’s Department for International Development.  Launched in late 2009, the Vietnam Challenge Fund provides co-financing grants to innovative business projects that seek to catalyse systemic change in the way agri-business is conducted in Vietnam, so as to raise the incomes of the country’s rural poor.


Consultative Group delegation visits cassava micro-organic fertilizer project in Quang Tri

A delegation from the Mid-term Consultative Group (including Ambassadors from 5 countries and a number of heads of development organisations) visited a cassava micro-organic fertilizer production project on 7th June 2011, to learn about an innovative project being implemented in Huong Hoa district, Quang Tri province, and co-funded by the Vietnam Challenge Fund.

The project is being implemented by the Quang Tri (one-member) Limited Company (Sepon), and aims to turn a waste by-product into fertiliser. Specifically, it aims to produce slow-release micro-organic fertilizer from the brown skin (solid waste) of cassava starch processing.  It also trains poor, less-educated Paco and Van Kieu farmers to use the product to fertilize cassava, for better yields and improvements in quality.

Cassava production is one of the most important crops for the 600,000 people living in Quang Tri; a province which continues to be heavily dependent on agricultural production and animal husbandry. The majority of rural households have limited opportunities to diversify livelihood opportunities, and tend to focus on a relatively narrow range of livelihoods. Huong Hoa – the project area – is a mountainous district bordering Laos. It has about 72,500 people (including Pa Ko, Van Kieu and Kinh ethnic groups). The poverty rate within this district is 20.4%; higher than the average found within province as a whole.

“We hope that this technology will help change the way local people cultivate cassava here,” said Mr. Ho Xuan Hieu, General Director of Sepon Company. “It helps secure the inputs for our company, raises productivity, and also helps local people improve their life. We also wish to expand this approach to other locations and other products,” he added.

The technology also has major environmental benefits. It turns a waste by-product into fertilizer, and helps minimizes deforestation by demonstrating to ethnic minority farmers that fertilization of land will give better yields without felling precious forest land. It also helps improve land which has been stripped of key nutrients, by nurturing it with natural micro-organic fertilizer.

“We’re very impressed by this project,” said Buddhika Samarasinghe, team leader of M4P2 project. “It has significant potential in a number of aspects, namely strong commercial sustainability, positive environmental impacts, and it also significant potential for replication. If successful, this can be a model for the hundred or so cassava starch companies operating throughout Vietnam, and thus potentially have an impact on tens of thousands of poor people,” he added.

Mr. Ayumi Konishi Country Director of the Asian Development Bank in Vietnam added, during a tree planting ceremony at the company, “this proves the inventiveness of business in Vietnam including state companies such as this one”. Furthermore Mr. Konishi noted that “the environmental and poverty reduction aspects of this project are enormous, and ADB is proud to support such an innovative initiative”.

By the end of December 2011, the project aims to produce 1,500 tons of low cost fertilizer available to participating farmers. During the project lifetime, it is estimated that 3,000 farmer households, or 15,000 people (50% female), will earn better incomes, through improved yields and secured prices for the cassava they produce using the fertilizer.

This cassava project is one of the 11 projects being supported by the Vietnam Challenge Fund (VCF), a component of Making Markets Work Better for the Poor, Phase 2 (M4P2). M4P2 is a project managed by ADB and funded by UK’s Department for International Development.  Launched in late 2009, the Vietnam Challenge Fund provides co-financing grants to innovative business projects that seek to catalyse systemic change in the way agri-business is conducted in Vietnam, so as to raise the incomes of the country’s rural poor.


VCF awards its first grants to 12 innovative pro-poor projects

Following the first ‘call’ for submissions to the Vietnam Challenge Fund (VCF) in December 2009, VCF has selected 12 projects for funding assistance.


In the first ‘call’ for submissions, VCF received a very strong response from businesses nationwide, which made the race for funding very competitive. Over 200 concept notes were submitted for the first set of challenges, all of which focused on the agricultural sector.


VCF’s Independent Appraisal Panel (IAP) met in February 2010 to select a short-list of projects that were invited to submit a more detailed project proposal.  The IAP then met again in May 2010 to review these proposals, and selected 12 projects to receive grant assistance from VCF.


The 12 winning projects span many locations in Vietnam, from Cao Bang in the North, to Tien Giang in the South, from the highlands of Dak Lak to the coast of Ben Tre.  They also span a wide variety of agricultural products, including fruit, coffee, tea, vegetables, meat and seafood.


VCF will announce its second ‘call’ of challenges, and re-open the ‘window’ for new applications, in the third quarter of 2010.  Details will be advertised in the mass media and will also be available at: www.markets4poor.org