SOFF - The Safe and Organic Food Finder in Hanoi, Vietnam

SOFF - The Safe and Organic Food Finder in Hanoi, Vietnam

Using Technology to Link Consumers and Safe Food Stores in Hanoi

Vietnam has a major food safety problem. Not a week goes by without a newspaper running an article that uncovers a new food safety scandal. One of the main causes of these scandals is that toxic, banned pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are smuggled across Vietnam’s porous border with China to be sold at local markets at very low prices, despite the existence of an extensive list of allowed, restricted and banned agricultural chemicals by the Vietnamese government.

In addition to this, most Vietnamese farmers are poor smallholder farmers that tend plots of land smaller than 1 hectare. Farming is often just one of the family’s income streams: most families also make a living raising animals, producing handicrafts or as part time labourers in factories. These smallholder farmers often have a hard time accessing accurate information on how to safely use and store the agricultural chemicals they buy in their local markets. The seller might have given them instructions, but most farmers spray their produce liberally, just to be sure that their harvest won’t be spoiled by a stubborn pest. The result is that a lot of the vegetables that make it to market have unacceptably high levels of chemical residues .

VECO Vietnam has traditionally supported farmers to transition towards the production of safe and organic vegetables and to link them with modern markets. However, it appeared that the focus on the production side was not enough to tackle this critical food safety problem.

The number of farmer groups in Vietnam that grow safe and organic vegetables is growing steadily, hand in hand with the Vietnamese consumer’s increasing appetite for these kinds of vegetables. The problem is that both sides don’t seem to be finding each other. VECO Vietnam calls this the food safety paradox.

Vietnamese urban consumers are becoming ever wealthier, more health-conscious and internet-savvy. They also lead ever busier lives. Surveys show that consumers are very worried about the safety of their food. Despite these concerns, they are slow to embrace safe and organic vegetables on a broad scale.

There are at least almost a hundred stores in Hanoi that sell vegetables of these kinds. However, and oddly enough, research shows that only a very low percentage of all vegetables consumed in Hanoi in any given day are safe or organic, despite growing concerns voiced by consumers. If you ask the consumers directly about why they don’t buy safe vegetables, the most commonly quoted reason is the following: ‘I don’t really know where to buy safe or organic vegetables’

In order to address this issue, VECO Vietnam, supported by VECO’s Innovation Fund, launched SOFF – The Safe and Organic Food Finder – an innovative platform that helps consumers in Hanoi find stores that sell safe and organic vegetables.

Challenges

  • A lot of vegetables that reach shops and markets have unsafe high levels of chemical residues;
  • Safe and organic vegetables are more expensive than conventional ones;
  • Consumers lack trust in Vietnam’s certification systems;
  • Entrenched buying habits discourage many consumers to start frequenting new and safe stores;
  • Many safe and organic vegetable shops lack an internet presence;
  • Consumers don’t know where to buy safe and organic vegetables

Our strategies

  • Stimulating the urban demand for safe and organic vegetables (S/OV) by removing obstacles that prevent consumers from buying more S/OV: lack of awareness, trust and information;
  • Building a “responsive website” and smartphone app that include:
  1. a regularly updated interactive map of all S/OV stores in Hanoi that provides information on stores: contact details, certificates owned, and kinds of S/OV sold;
  2. a platform that allows consumers and store owners to interact with and review one another;
  3. a participatory video that shows how the S/OV chain functions; and
  4. a page that provides concise and attractive information on vegetables’ safety;
  • Organising regular occasions for consumers to visit S/OV farms and meet farmers.

The SOFF Android app can be downloaded by clicking this link and the Apple iOS app by clicking this link.

You can also find the information on the website: www.soff.asia