The "Effective distribution of healthy, sustainable and nutritious agri-food in the urban food system" workshop

The "Effective distribution of healthy, sustainable and nutritious agri-food in the urban food system" workshop


On July 2, 2021, Rikolto in Vietnam collaborated with WISE to organize the “Effective distribution of healthy, sustainable and nutritious agri-food in the urban food system” workshop. The workshop attracted more than 200 registers, and more than 100 participants, including representatives from producers, distributors, businesses, experts, authorities, and organizations involved in the chain safe food supply.

The objective of the workshop was to create a forum for stakeholders in the urban food supply chain to share opportunities, challenges, and solutions for urban food systems.

Speakers of the workshop included Ms. Nguyen Thi Tan Loc - Head of Market Economics Department, Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute (FAVRI), Ms. Tu Tuyet Nhung - Head of Coordination Committee of Organics PGS Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen Van Chi - Permanent Deputy Chief of the Hanoi Office of New Rural Development Program Coordination, Mr. Tran Manh Chien - Founder and CEO of Bac Tom food chain store, Ms. Le Thi Thu Huong - Value Chain Advisor, CAFÉ-REDD Project, SNV Vietnam, and Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu – Director and Founder of MEVI Support Impactful Business Initiative Joint Stock Company.

Through the workshop, Rikolto in Vietnam gained a better understanding of the situation of the urban food system in Vietnam, enabling better an action plan to help improve the urban food system towards an HSN agri-food system. Furthermore, based on the identified needs, Rikolto will develop a program to support businesses, particularly SMEs and start-ups of food production, processing, and distribution.

The current condition of the distribution of HSN agri-food in Hanoi’s food system

At the beginning of the workshop, Ms. Nguyen Thi Tan Loc - FAVRI shared the main points about the current condition of the HSN agri-food distribution in the urban food system, modern distribution channels associated with sustainable development factors.

According to Ms. Loc, Hanoi consumers have high expectations for the quality and appearance of safe vegetables. Vegetables sold at wholesale markets and farmers' markets lack a clear origin, whereas vegetables sold at clean food stores, convenience stores, and supermarkets have complete origins, certificates, and prices. Both listings are expected to attract an increasing number of buyers. However, the amount of food distributed through this official channel accounts for only about 10% of the total distribution. Faced with the opportunity of rising demand for safe food and the trend of using IT applications such as e-commerce platforms, the challenge for a sustainable food system in Hanoi is the problem of "what kind of product to grow and sell " to meet market demand. Producers face the challenge of selecting information (materials, technology, output), consumption, adaptability to changes in weather, disease, capital, and competition. The challenge for distributors is determining a safe production area, the stability of the source, and the product's quality. In addition, a sustainable food supply system should consider environmental protection measures such as reducing emissions and using plastic bags.

The bottleneck in the distribution of HSN agri-food in Hanoi’s food system

Guests at the workshop discussed the trend of HSN agri-food distribution, the bottlenecks of HSN agri-food distribution in Hanoi’s food system, solutions to transform the current food supply system toward a sustainable one, and the role of distributors in optimizing the HSN agri-food distribution.

According to Ms. Le Thi Thu Huong - SNV Vietnam, unlike other countries in the Mekong region such as Thailand, the development trend of HSN agri-food distribution in the urban food systems in Vietnam does not only focus on supermarkets but also develop diverse distribution channels, including traditional markets, clean food stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, etc. However, the food system in Vietnam is facing some challenges such as the lack of market information, production operation capacity does not meet consumers' requirements regarding transparency and modernity, and information between producers and consumers is limited and oriented by distributors.

According to Mr. Tran Manh Chien – Bac Tom, the biggest challenge for HSN agri-food distributors is gaining consumer trust. Modern distributors should take advantage of new media such as social networks to increase consumer reach while being aware of the negative feature of this channel. Furthermore, the distribution of HSN agri-food in Hanoi’s food system should take account of accountable certification for production units.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu – MEVI launched the initiative to create a community of responsible distributors. This community will not only assist distributors in controlling the quality and consistency of inputs but will also create a fair ecosystem for producers by communicating products to consumers.

Sharing the same opinion, Mr. Nguyen Van Chi - Representative Office of the New Urban Area Program in Hanoi recognizes the role of distributors not only in sales but also in transmitting production values to consumers. He said the biggest challenge of distribution in Hanoi’s food system is the lack of agents that play the role of transmitting information from producers to consumers and the loose connection between retail distributors.

Difficulties, challenges, and solutions for urban agri-food distributors

Delegates participated in group discussions at the end of the workshop to share ideas on the difficulties and challenges of distributing HSN Agri-food in urban areas, as well as to propose solutions to improve/optimize the food distribution system.

The difficulties and challenges in agri-food distribution focused on three main issues. The first is that the chain of links between producers, distributors, and consumers is still shaky and not based on the value chain. Small groups of farmers find it difficult to connect with consistent producers, while distributors struggle to find a source of quality supplies, long-term commitment, and branding investment. Small-scale producers also lack the resources and knowledge necessary to reduce production costs, manage losses, and preserve agricultural products. Second, there is a lack of a centralized, transparent information system and a mechanism for sharing information from producers, distributors, and consumers such as product information, origin, quality, certified producers and distributors and as communication and education information about HSN Agri-food products for customers. At the State level, actual data, such as the number of farmers producing safe food and the number of consumers accessing and using safe products, are still limited. The management of wholesale and wet markets is still loose, with no product traceability.

The workshop participants agreed on solutions to strengthen networks and form an urban HSN agri-food ecosystem to build a sustainable food system. Members of the ecosystem can connect, support, and monitor one another, improving traceability and lowering intermediary costs between producers and consumers.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Lien - Head of Business Connection (AFT) shared that the most important thing to build a modern urban distribution system is to build consumer trust based on transparency in information. The distribution system is built based on a common roadmap, steps, and overall strategy, in parallel with building a standard toolkit.

Other comments mentioned the involvement of state agencies (Department of Industry and Trade, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development), associations (Farmers Union, Women's Union, Youth Union, professional associations, etc.), and media agencies in ensuring market transparency. State agencies, associations, businesses, and farmers will work together to promote a more sustainable food system. Furthermore, State agencies must have comprehensive and equitable support strategies and policies in place for distributors in supermarkets, convenience stores, and small traders and retail distributors at wholesale and wet markets.

Following that, Rikolto will continue to organize a series of workshops on sustainable production, distribution, logistics, and consumption in Vietnam.

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