The delegation saw first-hand the key challenges facing Vietnam’s agricultural development and gained in-person experience with some of the ongoing efforts of ACIAR and its Vietnamese partners to address these challenges.
Commission Chair Fiona Simson said it was an ‘amazing’ trip.
It was great for my first trip as a Commissioner to see some of the work that ACIAR has been doing in Vietnam, to see the results of some of that work, and to see some of the challenges and opportunities that our work is trying to address.
Chair Australia’s Commission for International Agricultural Research
On their week-long visit, the delegation visited Southern Horticultural Research Institute (SOFRI), rice research and development partners in the Mekong Delta, and greenhouses where Can Tho University researchers are experimenting with alternative crops on saline land.
‘For me, the highlight of the trip was being able to meet and talk to farmers: shrimp farmer Mr Tang Van Xua; mangrove farmer in the Mekong Delta Mr Tran Nghia Sy; and vegetable farmers in Hanoi Mrs Nguyen Thi Luyen and Mr Nguyen Van Duyen. We were able to talk with the vegetable growers about their farms and their cooperative and see their vegetables in the markets.
‘Those were the things that really made the trip come alive for me.’
Through a series of high-level meetings, the delegation heard Vietnamese leaders’ priorities for the agriculture sector, and their commitment to international collaboration in agricultural research. They also held meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, who awarded commemorative medals to Ambassador Ms Robyn Mudie and ACIAR CEO Professor Andrew Campbell for their contributions to Vietnam’s agricultural and rural development.
Mrs Simson said these firsthand experiences to see the challenges and opportunities facing agriculture and food systems in Vietnam helped her understand them fully.
She valued seeing how ACIAR and partners are working with smallholder farmers to make their situation more tenable, and help them and their industries address climate change, sustainability and food security challenges.
Mrs Simson is also President of the National Farmers’ Federation, and said while there are major differences between farmers in Vietnam and Australia, there were also important similarities.
‘The thing that often stands out to me when travelling is that on the face of it the differences may seem very stark. Clearly, in Vietnam, there are a lot of very small landholder farmers who are very poor.
‘Yet the similarities between what they want for their families, and what they want as people, and what they’d like to achieve as farmers, is strikingly similar to Australian farmers.
‘And some of the challenges and opportunities that we’re facing in both countries are also strikingly similar. So that’s often my takeaway, and it certainly is here in Vietnam.’
The visit was also a public diplomacy event for the Australian Government as it continues to develop its strategic partnership with the Vietnamese Government. Notably, 2023 will mark 50 years of the Australia-Vietnam partnership and 30 years of ACIAR in Vietnam.
The visit also highlighted the importance of ACIAR-funded capacity building activities for Mrs Simson and the other delegates. They met ACIAR alumni and Can Tho University students who are currently participating in ACIAR-supported research.
‘[It] really brought home to me how much that part of the program adds to our in-country partnerships. I don’t think I had really appreciated the value of that until meeting these amazing young people here in Vietnam, and seeing what benefits and contributions they’re giving to their communities.’
For Mrs Simson, the visit demonstrated the strength of the ACIAR approach.
‘I think for research to be useful, then it needs to be targeted, and it needs to be credible, and we need to have people on the ground and the extension needs to be to be there.
‘So to me, I think research community understands that it needs those connections more than ever. ACIAR is as good as an example as I have found of bottom up research that’s driven by the community. ACIAR partners with that community through its relationships to achieve the outcomes it has identified that it needs. That’s the gold standard for research, in my view. I hope that we can continue to achieve that and build on that.
‘Our strength is enabling; that’s what we do. We enable agricultural scientists [through] best practice research to share with and partner with countries who need those skills and knowledge. We enable them to step up and fully partner with us to achieve the outcomes in their own countries. So I think ACIAR has to play a role in the global stage. Despite being a small organisation, we have very deep links globally.’
The respect that Vietnamese research partners and government representatives showed to the ACIAR delegation impressed Mrs Simson.
‘ACIAR has huge respect. Wherever ACIAR goes, it has and demands huge respect, and that is one of the things that I think sets ACIAR apart. People love ACIAR and the work that it does, and you are able to see those tangible benefits in the people that it works, and the countries that it partners, with. That is something that is absolutely alone to ACIAR.’
She said strong relationships with Australia’s neighbouring countries was crucial for a range of reasons including trade and biosecurity. As President of the National Farmers’ Federation, she said its members were becoming more concerned about these issues.