April 2014—H Kem Buon, an ethnic minority woman in Vietnam's Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, recalls a time when things were not easy for her family. They did not make enough money to cover basic expenses. The entire income of her family with four children was then around $950 (20 million Vietnamese dong) a year, which came from maize, rice and corn crops on their 1.4 hectares of farm land. Her family’s most valuable assets were an old house and an obsolete motorbike.
“Our family used to face so many difficulties. We worked very hard to earn a living but could not make enough for foods, not to mention school fees and hospital expenses for our children,” said Buon.
Cocoa was introduced in Dak Lak in 2007 by the Sustainable Cocoa Enterprise Solutions for Smallholders (SUCCESS) Alliance program supported by USAID and its industry partners. When Buon participated in the program in 2009, she received 300 free seedlings. In addition to being trained on essential techniques for cocoa cultivation and development, she learned about harvest and post-harvest practices.
“At the beginning, we had difficulties since I did not know much about farming technique, also with no money to purchase fertilizers and insecticides to grow and develop cocoa trees,” said Buon. “Then everything got better and better. The project provided me with a lot of training, knowledge and assistance, and our cocoa trees have been growing well and bearing fruits. Now I collect cocoa pods every week and sell them to pay for daily expenses for my family. We will try to work very hard to become one of the best smallholder farmers in the community and ensure that our children are able to obtain a good education. The cocoa crops have transformed our life.”
After several years of savings as a result of her enhanced income from cultivation of cocoa and other crops, she is going to finish building her new house, valued up to $24,000 (500 million Vietnamese dong).
“Many people come to visit our house and ask me about farming techniques, pruning, integrated pest management, market access and information,” she said. “I am ready and willing to help them with information on how to grow cocoa so that they can improve their standard of living. I am very happy to see other cocoa gardens in the commune growing well also, and many people earn decent incomes from cocoa. I wish my house will become a cocoa learning center where local people can discuss cocoa growing techniques and share valuable experience.”
Since 2009, through the SUCCESS Alliance program, USAID has helped increase the income of 5,000 new cocoa farmers in the Central Highlands, boosting long-term income potential for some of the country’s poorest people. Based on the success of cocoa cultivation in helping reduce poverty, the Government of Vietnam has approved a master plan to reach 50,000 hectares of cocoa cultivation and $65 - 75 million worth of cocoa exports by 2020.
The SUCCESS Alliance program in the Central Highlands was built on the success of a U.S. Department of Agriculture/USAID cocoa program launched in 2003 in the Mekong Delta and southern provinces. This program laid the foundations for cocoa as a new crop and agro-industry in Vietnam. Since 2007, with funding from USAID, in-kind contributions from Mars Inc., and technical collaboration from the World Cocoa Foundation and other local and international industry partners, over 5,000 Central Highland farmers in Dak Lak and Lam Dong provinces, of whom 60 percent are ethnic minorities, have received regular training on cocoa production and adopted intercropping practices. The program and its successor program, Sustainable Cocoa for Farmers, which ended in April 2014, have also trained nursery owners and fermentary operators to ensure high-quality cocoa beans while building strong local technical and management capacity for economic and environmental sustainability.
Last updated: April 15, 2016