September marks the harvesting of the cinnamon crop in Lao Cai province. Once the month is over, cinnamon farmers had already received the pay-off of their hard works throughout a long year. Alike to other farmers in Nam Det, Bac Ha district, Ms. Man, a local ethnic Dao, just finished her cinnamon trade this year. However, although the crop was a fairly successful one, the worry had never settled in her mind due to the unpredictable fluctuations of the market price.
Fortunately, Ms. Man could share the burden with other companions in the group of local cinnamon farmers established with the support of Women’ Economic Empowerment through Agricultural Value Chain Enhancement (WEAVE) project which is being implemented by the consortium of 3 NGOs - SNV, Oxfam and CARE International - and funded by Australian government. The project aims to promote a gender transformation in the cinnamon value chain and to improve the livelihoods of local people with the cinnamon production. Therefore, the group that Ms. Man was a part of also focuses on discussing and facilitating issues related to the aforementioned targets such as updating market information, implementing sustainable business initiatives and finding more solutions to accelerate ethnic minority women’s empowerment. As the burden of the market instability swelled, Ms. Man decided to seek for the solutions from her group.
Once the group met, upon hearing Man’s worry, the silence dawned upon the circle of people. All cinnamon farmers sitting here had witnessed the ups and downs of the cinnamon over the past 40 years and the fear of instability had always been nagging in their minds. After a while, Mr. Vay, a member in the group, said: “Should we try initial processing for cinnamon? We all have been taught about the know-how while the price of processed cinnamon is much more stable than fresh cinnamon. We can always learn more if anything crop up”. The brilliant initiative immediately received everyone’s approval and the share of work was quickly divided among members. The processed cinnamon, quills shape for example, will add up the revenue at least 30 – 50%. Ms. Man voluntarily received the task of connecting with traders and manufacturers to ensure the offtake as she possessed a wide network. Mr. Vay took up the work of a technical ‘expert’ whereas another member contributed a part of his land for the factory. That was how Nam Det group of cinnamon processers was given birth.
The first steps had never been smooth since there were a myriad of obstacles such as requesting loans from the district’s agriculture bank, constructing the factory and preparing the facilities. Gradually, with the dedication of all members in the group, the very first order of high-quality processed cinnamon was sold with a reasonable price and a promise of trader to re-purchase. The business initiative, which at first seemed difficult to realize, had turned into a brilliant reality.
When the business had operated for a certain time, the need for the business expansion followed right after because there were only 7 farming households pooling the money in the beginning. However, because of legality issue, it posed difficulty for other members who wanted to join the capital. Once again, with the support of WEAVE, members in Ms. Man’s group successfully established Nam Det Organic Cinnamon Cooperative to take advantage of the project’s further support in issuing organic cinnamon certification. Another challenge also pop up. Since most of the members know how to process the cinnamon, the collectors still require proper storage techniques. The processed cinnamon should not be placed underground mixing with other crops. Mr. Vay had to spend a great deal of efforts to convince the members to strictly follow the procedure. The birth of the cooperative had been greatly cheered by ‘founding’ members, “We would certainly have to learn more about business administration techniques like accounting. The project even gives us the golden opportunity to learn about experience of cooperative administration in Quang Binh so that our business can run more smoothly”, said Ms. Man, Mr. Vay and Ms. Khe excitedly.
The business chances were also widely open to the newly-established cooperative, which could increase number of orders and help the cooperative to operate all year round in order to create more jobs for local workers. The hopes brought by the cinnamon and WEAVE has touched Nam Det village and settled in the hearts of local people once again. But Ms. Man, Ms. Khe and Mr. Vay don’t want to stop there. They expect to expand the cooperative and gain more capacity to produce new products. “I think entrepreneurship spirit is very important. Once you are bold enough to start up a business, it means you leave all your hesitation and worriedness behind. My friends in the cinnamon business network have encouraged me a lots”. Said Ms. Man. Numerous stories like this of Ms. Man have reflected the core value of WEAVE project which is echoed in the appreciation sharing of Mr. Nguyen Huu The, Vice Chairman of Lao Cai province, “Lao Cai appreciates the support from the Australian Government and international organizations. Especially, WEAVE project has helped initiate ideas, new ways of working for locals so that they can pull themselves out of poverty and step by step increase their income legally”.