FAO in Viet Nam

Improving nutrition and food security through better farming techniques

Viet Nam has achieved a significant improvement in maternal and child nutrition during the last three decades, but reducing the extent of malnutrition remains a public health priority. There are significant differences in food consumption habits and patterns between peoples living in the midlands and mountainous areas, urban and rural environments, and among different ethnic groups.

Among children under five years of age, the rates for underweight and stunting are 20.2 percent and 35.8 percent respectively. It has been reported that an estimated 27 percent of mothers with children less than five suffer from chronic energy deficiency. Viet Nam has one of the lowest levels of breastfeeding in Southeast Asia. Only 57 percent of babies are breastfed within the first hour of birth despite 80 percent of deliveries occurring in health facilities. Only 17 percent of babies are breastfed exclusively during the first six months of life. In addition, only 41 percent of infant children aged six to 11 months are given appropriate complementary food.

Nutrition is the key to the long-term goal of achieving health and food security throughout the country. But, achieving this goal will require special attention to the supply, adequacy and access by all segments of the population to safe and healthy foods that contribute to better diet and nutrition.

To assist Viet Nam with its food security goals, FAO is working on capacity building and policy reform. Through its regular funding of projects, such as fresh vegetables, rice seed production, International food safety standards are gradually being introduced. An example is the project Capacity building for improvement of seed source quality and rice production for food security in the highland and mountainous regions in Viet Nam (TCP/VIE/3101).

This project was implemented from November 2007 until October 2009 in six mountainous provinces, including Phu Tho, Ha Giang, Yen Bai, Bac Kan, Quang Nam and Gia Lai. Its development objective was to help Viet Nam realize its national strategy for social equity, peace and sustainable development by building the capacity for highland and mountainous communities to produce good quality rice seeds and practice sustainable rice cultivation.

Upon completion, the project demonstrated remarkable and sustainable achievements. Organising and managing the implementation of a multi-institutional project, the Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (NOMAFSI) worked in close partnership with the target provinces' departments of agriculture and rural development, local extension workers and farmers and other relevant institutions to achieve all of the project's planned outputs. Valuable unplanned results were also produced. The project's achievements and contributions to food security for mountainous regions in food, crop seeds and the environment, including resilience to natural hazards, are impressive.

Under the project, many local, traditional rice varieties of specialty values were refined and their production was promoted. Newly developed and strengthened pure-line rice varieties were also tested and introduced for large-scale production. Together with appropriate rice cultivation technologies developed by the project, availability of these varieties greatly helped mountainous farming communities improve their livelihoods and living conditions. The project also helped them protect their land, water and forest resources in the difficult conditions of farming on the sloped and narrow terrain.

The project produced major achievements in capacity building and raising awareness among local communities and authorities about sustainable development, especially regarding self-sufficiency in the supply of rice seeds and the need to adapt to climate change. It also succeeded in establishing community systems of rice seed production and supply that will further promote the development of partnerships and collaboration between researchers, farmers and decision-makers towards sustainable rural development in the mountainous regions of Viet Nam.