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.