Moving Towards Agroecosystem Sustainability: Safe Vegetable Production in Vietnam
Simmons, Luke Vincent
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Humanity is facing a series of challenges, including climate change, biodiversity loss, decreasing availability of cheap fossil fuel energy and social inequality that, when taken together, constitute a sustainability crisis. Agricultural systems are vitally important for the survival of humanity and must be moved towards greater sustainability. In Vietnam, the challenges facing the agriculture sector are immediate and pressing. These challenges include the need to improve the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers, improve food safety and protect already heavily burdened ecosystems. In response to these challenges, a number of alternative agriculture approaches, including safe vegetable production and organic farming have emerged. While the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not permitted in certified organic agriculture, the requirements for safe vegetable production are not nearly as stringent. Chemical fertilizers and some low toxicity pesticides are allowed in safe vegetable production as long as pesticide residues are below proscribed limits. This research assesses the contributions that safe vegetable production and organic agriculture are making to the development of more sustainable agroecosystems in Vietnam. Organic production is still in early stages of development, with the majority of the projects directed towards production for export. Safe vegetables in contrast are produced primarily for the domestic market and demand is driven by consumer concerns over excessive pesticide use in conventional vegetable production. A sustainability assessment that explores the effect that safe vegetable production is having on eight major criteria for sustainability is applied in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City. Research methods included semi-structured interviews and group discussions with safe vegetable farmers together with interviews of other key actors from the agricultural sector in Vietnam. Along with the goal of protecting human health, farmers are interested in safe vegetable production because of improved economic returns made possible by reduced inputs and greater market access. While safe vegetable production is contributing to greater agroecosystem sustainability, further improvements are needed in some areas, specifically in the use of agrochemicals. There are encouraging signs in relation to pesticides, with some farmers reducing their pesticide use and moving towards less-toxic pesticides. Further movement towards sustainability could be fostered by a shift to the use of pesticides only as a last resort, a further shift from chemical to organic fertilizers, and improved capacity of farmers to experiment with and adapt safe vegetable production techniques.