By Hannah Jeanicke; Dao The Anh; Nguyen Quoc Hung; Joshua N. Daniel; Nilanjan Ghose

In order to assist resource-poor farmers in India and Viet Nam to gain access to markets for local crops, the Coalition to Diversify Income through Underused Crops set up a project that integrated four types of assistance: setting up farmer associations; training in crop production, nursery management, post-harvest handling and marketing; setting up community germplasm orchards; and farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer. After 2.5 years of project interventions, beneficiaries reported increased household income from better understanding about production and use of a variety of crops and from better market opportunities. The socio-economic background of the farmers in the project locations in India and in Viet Nam determined to a large extent how far a product could be pushed along the market chain. Whereas diversification of crop production and improved household nutrition was more prominent in most of the rural Indian sites, improved market penetration of selected semi-industrialized crops was the focus of the peri-urban Vietnamese sites.

Keywords: Market access, support services, nutrition, farmer associations.

Rural communities in India and Viet Nam rely on a few crops for food security and income generation. This concentration can be attributed to the Green Revolution, which sacrificed species diversity for higher production of the main staple crops, mainly wheat and rice. Farmers tilling degraded land or living in areas with difficult access have limited opportunities to produce these high-input commodities. However, relatively high natural crop diversity is present in many of these areas. Making use of this diversity for marketable products could provide sustainable income and is therefore one promising path to sustainable development. Challenges to this approach include the need to achieve and maintain high product quality for more discerning and demanding urban consumers.

Providing support services for training and information exchange on production, post-harvest handling and marketing was identified as a key entry point to assist small-scale rural and peri-urban producers, many of them women. The services aimed to make available better options for land husbandry and market access, thus generating sustainable income. The Coalition to Diversify Income through Underused Crops (CoDI), a group of organizations in India and Viet Nam co-ordinated by Crops for the Future, was established to provide this support.

Materials and methods
Project locations
The project was implemented in four locations each in India and Viet Nam: the four states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat and the four provinces of Hai Duong, Bac Kan, Hanoi and Thua Thien Hue. The project sites were representative of the marginalized sections in the intervention areas.

Support services
At the core of the initiative were 'food-processing parks'. These parks were the locus for training courses, information exchange, business development services, processing, grading and other post-harvest activities. Wider support also took place there, including information on available market opportunities, credit advice and links to other value chain actors at local, national and international levels. Although the food-processing parks were initiated by the project, they were run and managed by the communities themselves.

'Community germplasm orchards' or nurseries served as training centres for plant propagation and nursery management skills. Regular 'village crop fairs' supported the operations of the newly established orchards, nurseries and parks and provided a forum for information on new crops and cultivars. The fairs also served as a mechanism for evaluating promising local crops for further multiplication and sale in the nurseries.

'Annual knowledge fairs' were organized at each site to communicate and discuss experiences with a much broader group of stakeholders from the public and private sector and to contribute to learning at different levels. Further communication disseminated knowledge through a variety of means, such as flyers, technical manuals, presentations and TV programmes.

In India, the project covered, among other crops, different varieties of millet, black berry, cashew apple, jackfruit, tamarind, a local rice variety, Bangalya rice and jamun. In Viet Nam, the underused crops basket consisted of Hoa Vang sticky rice, Thanh Tra pummelo, late-bearing longan and the wild leafy vegetable bo khai (Table 1).

A monitoring plan was developed within the project team and regular monitoring was carried out throughout the life of the project. A baseline survey was carried out with data from the 2007-2008 cropping season, just prior to the project's start (Tiwari, 2010) and an external impact evaluation took place in early 2011 (CMS, 2011).

Results and discussions
The impact evaluation was carried out in four of the eight project locations after 2.5 years of project interventions (CMS, 2011). Survey results indicated that the project has instilled a renewed interest among the farmers -- the majority of them women -- in the cultivation of underused crops through its various events and activities.

In Maharashtra, Hai Duong and Hanoi, farmers' knowledge on better practices for underused crops improved. These practices included fertilizer application, integrated pest management and special horticultural treatments like thinning, pruning and girdling. Farmers acknowledged that the training received through CoDI led to changes in their cultivation practices and showed a positive impact on production. In Karnataka, information on positive health benefits of millet and the prospect of value addition through a mill purchased during the project, rejuvenated farmers' interest in millet. Table 2 shows changes in some of the key indicators.

Changes in product quality and marketing
Product quality improved during the project period, especially in the case of Bangalya rice in Maharashtra, late longan in Hanoi and Hoa Vang sticky rice in Hai Duong (Jaenicke et al., 2010; CMS, 2011, see Box). Farmers at these three locations, and retail shop owners and consumers in Viet Nam confirmed this. Better germplasm and better cultivation practices may have led to better production and enhanced quality. The production of value-added products from millet (such as poppadums and sweets) increased at both locations in India and provided self-employment opportunities.

Changes in gross annual income
The increase in gross annual income of the respondents in the evaluation survey was impressive at some sites, with some averages increasing as much as nine times the baseline gross annual income. The key contributing factors are assumed to be:

  • improved germplasm;
  • improved capacities (skills, knowledge and technique);
  • better processing facilities;
  • increased sales opportunities;
  • access to better markets; and
  • increase in sale price of the underused crops (CMS, 2011).

The project was carried out across eight locations with a range of socio-economic backgrounds of the beneficiaries and of different market opportunities for the prioritized products. It became evident during the project that the introduction of completely new underused crops would have been very time and resource consuming, whereas concentrating on crops already on the farms or in the markets with evident potential for improvement could generate more farmer interest and led to quicker success.

Because of the different socio-economic backgrounds at the Indian and Vietnamese sites, the messages to beneficiaries were different. In India we emphasized the health benefits of a more diverse and healthy diet, including, for example, millet and fruit. In Viet Nam we focussed on supporting the formation of producer associations, accreditation through denomination of origin labelling and linkages to urban supermarkets as high-end outlets for produce.

The CoDI project has demonstrated that a viable market exists for underused crops and for the associated value-added products, provided there are necessary incentive mechanisms in place for the diverse stakeholders involved in the value chain. We recommend that the existing government policies in both countries need to put a stronger emphasis on the promotion of underused crops.

(This article is based on work supported under a project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for the benefit of developing countries. The views expressed are not necessarily those of DFID.)

(References available upon request)