All eyes on agroecology as Vietnam embarks on food system transformation journey

Side event showcases application of agroecological principles for long-term food security
Vietnam’s leaders have made no bones about centering agroecology in recent years. Photo by Q. Hưng Phạm

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Vietnam is positioning itself as a food innovation hub for Asia, and is building its reputation as a responsible, transparent, and sustainable food provider in the process. As part of this transformation from agri-food systems based on crop monocultures and separate intensive livestock rearing, sustained by environmentally disruptive chemicals, it is putting agroecology at the heart of its efforts. Agroecology embraces a farming approach that makes use of ecological processes rather than their substitution by artificial alternatives, combines local and scientific knowledge, and focuses on the interactions between plants, animals, humans, and the environment.

This commitment was highlighted during a side event, ‘Harnessing the potential of agroecology in Southeast Asia to transform food systems to become sustainable’, at the 4th Global Conference of the One Planet Network‘s Sustainable Food System Programme (SFS Programme) in Hanoi on 25th April 2023.

The session featured presentations from government officials from Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as from senior agroecology experts from around the world. The speakers delivered updates on national policies, and shared how the 13 actionable agroecological principles have been integrated by a wide range of actors, at various scales, to build up sustainable food systems through agroecology across the Southeast Asian region. These  principles were synthesised in 2019 by the High Level Panel of Experts for Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

The event was co-organized by the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS), the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), French agricultural research and cooperation organisation CIRAD, the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It was held under the auspices of the Agroecology Coalition and the Transformative Partnership Platform on Agroecological Approaches to Building Resilience of Livelihoods and Landscapes (Agroecology TPP). Nearly 50 participants attended the session in person, and around a hundred joined online.

Siting the event in Vietnam was an obvious choice, as the country’s leaders have made no bones about centring agroecology in recent years. Their 2021-2025 socio-economic plan contains a resolution to “encourage the development of green, clean, ecological, organic, hi-tech, smart agriculture adaptable to climate change”, and the National Strategy for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development 2021-2030, vision to 2050 is explicitly oriented toward agroecological solutions.

Building on these political statements, Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang laid out Vietnam’s commitment to centring transparency, responsibility, and sustainability in its food systems during the opening of the SFS Programme conference. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Le Minh Hoan, then spoke of aspirations to cement the country’s status as a food innovation hub for Asia, and stated that transformation in food systems must be associated with the advancement of agroecology.

Then, during the side event, the Vice-President of VAAS, Associate Professor Dao The Anh, introduced the recently-approved Vietnam National Action Plan on Food System Transformation (NAP-FST), which also has a clear emphasis on an agroecological transition. He revealed that the country’s ambitions in this arena go beyond its borders, too. “Vietnam is now playing a very active role in initiating the agroecological network in the Southeast Asian region for sharing experiences related to the development of agroecology,” said Anh.

The side event itself represented an important milestone in building a regional agroecology coalition. Work to this end has already been instigated by the Agroecology and Safe Food System Transitions in South East Asia (ASSET) project, which is led by the French NGO Group for Research and Technology Exchanges (GRET) and CIRAD. As a result of the event, ASSET became officially aligned with the Agroecology TPP, which seeks to address key knowledge and implementation gaps to support agroecological transitions.

Fergus Sinclair, Chief Scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF and Co-convenor of the Agroecology TPP, said in a television interview that “Vietnam is in many ways a leading light in Southeast Asia in relation to agroecology, but this is not without its challenges, such as food security and needing to maintain productivity whilst reducing the use of agrochemical inputs. Thankfully, there is increasing evidence that high productivity and diversity can go hand in hand – there are a lot of data now showing that, with mixed cropping and the inclusion of legumes, it is possible get high productivity without the use of industrially produced nitrogen fertiliser and pesticides. Such approaches are much more in harmony with nature than conventional agriculture and could help us avoid overshooting planetary boundaries.”

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