Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011
In the 1959 movie The Mouse that Roared, staring Peter Sellers, an impoverished backward nation declares war on the United States of America, hoping to lose, but things don’t go according to plan. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick decides that the only way to get out of their economic woes is to declare war on the United States, lose and accept foreign aid.
While not the fantasy story, from the late ’50 through the 60’s the United States and Vietnam suffered though a terrible war that in one way or another disrupted both countries. But here is a great example of the resiliency of the Vietnamese and the benefits and generosity of foreign aid from the people of the America.
The Sustainable Cocoa Enterprise Solutions for Smallholders (SUCCESS) Alliance program in Vietnam is a public-private partnership consisting of USAID, USDA, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), Mars Inc. and ACDI/VOCA. Since the $5.5 million program started in 2003 under USDA’s Food for Progress funding, it has grown to include new farmers, areas, partners and donors.
This initiative builds on past successful cocoa programs in Indonesia and the Philippines and on ACDI/VOCA’s strong relationship with the cocoa industry. The SUCCESS Alliance increases smallholder farmers’ incomes in Vietnam through the introduction of sustainable, diversified, cocoa-based agroforestry systems. Since cocoa is a new crop to Vietnam, the program is focusing on building a sustainable cocoa industry from the ground up. When the first SUCCESS Alliance cocoa seedlings were planted in 2004, there were only about 1,600 hectares of cocoa plantings in all of Vietnam, mainly at state-owned farms. Over the past 6 years, the project has increased and diversified farmer incomes in southern Vietnam by producing high-quality cocoa on approximately 8,500 hectares of land. It has trained over 22,000 smallholder farmers in southeastern Vietnam and the Central Highlands in cocoa production using sustainable cropping practices. In addition, ACDI/VOCA has established cocoa bean quality standards and provided monitoring and training assistance to ensure farmers meet and maintain a level of cocoa bean quality that is required by the global market.
The initial program, focused on cocoa production areas in the four main provinces—Ben Tre and Tien Giang in the Mekong delta and Ba Ria Vung Tau and Binh Phuoc in the southeast region. These areas have favorable climatic and soil conditions and local government commitments to cocoa development. Cocoa farms in these provinces began to produce cocoa within 18 months of initial planting and as of 2009 were reaching full production. Peak production is expected to be between 1.5 to 2.0 metric tons per hectare. These new cocoa farmers are independent smallholders who sell their cocoa through private, free enterprise channels into the world market.
To date, 5,147 smallholder farmers in the Central Highlands who received cocoa seedlings and training in cocoa cultivation have adopted cocoa production as part of their farming system. USAID’s assistance in the Central Highlands has helped the SUCCESS Alliance to distribute over 900,000 seedlings and expand cocoa cultivation area in the Central Highlands by 1,547 hectares. Cocoa planted in 2007 in the Central Highlands has started to produce early fruit.
Another addition to cocoa development in Vietnam was a small pilot project that was started in 2007 in the Lam Dong Province of the Central Highlands. This pilot program helps local growers on 40-hectare plots of land develop cocoa within the forest ecosystem. This demonstrates that cocoa can successfully be grown under the forest canopy and intercropped with other economic trees. While some commercial agriculture has led to land clearance and threatened biodiversity, cocoa farming can be part of the solution for both local livelihood and conservation.
With donor support from USAID, USDA, the U.S. chocolate industry, and local partners, the SUCCESS Alliance is well on its way to building a new and sustainable smallholder cocoa economy in Vietnam.