Key takeaways from “Missing Middle” workshop in Viet Nam

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To support the sustainability of Vietnamese food systems, researchers and industry stakeholders convened on May 12, 2023, in Hanoi, Viet Nam, for the Missing Middle in Food Value Chains in Viet Nam Workshop. Co-hosted by Wageningen University and Research (WUR), the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT (the Alliance), Markets and Agriculture Linkages for Cities in Asia (MALICA), and the CGIAR Research Initiative on Sustainable Healthy Diets through Food Systems Transformation (SHiFT), the workshop sought to address the “missing middle” between food production and consumption in Viet Nam.

Food Systems in Transition
Over the past several decades, Vietnamese food systems have experienced structural changes that have been intensified by urbanization, industrialization, and global trade. Recent transitions include the emergence of supermarkets, large-scale farming, and a push toward certified safe and organic products. Despite continued growth in the agricultural sector, the disconnect between food producers and consumers, also known as the missing middle, hinders the integration of sustainable practices across value chains.

The opening session of the Missing Middle workshop laid the groundwork for in-depth discussions. Dr. Peter Oosterveer of WUR, former co-lead of SHiFT’s Work Package 3 on Governance and Inclusive Food Systems introduced the Missing Middle Project, which focuses on food systems in Viet Nam and Tanzania. Dr. Dao The Anh, Vice President of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS), followed his presentation with an overview of Vietnamese food systems. Dr. Tho Pham of the Centre for Agrarian Systems Research and Development (CASRAD) presented Viet Nam’s National Action Plan (NAP), shedding light on the country’s strategy for sustainable food systems transformation.

Barriers to Pork and Vegetable Production
Pork and vegetables are two of the most prominent foods in the Vietnamese diet. The Missing Middle workshop focused on the unique barriers faced by the pork and vegetable sectors as they adapt to transitioning food systems. Quoc Nguyen, PhD candidate of WUR, presented results from missing middle research in pork and vegetable value chains. Insights from two additional projects – SafePork and Agro-Econvert – were shared to expand on existing opportunities and challenges.

Addressing the Missing Middle

Workshop participants were divided into three breakout groups facilitated by experts to delve into the complexities of Viet Nam’s pork and vegetable sectors. Insights from these discussions reflected the following themes:

  • Food safety: The topic of food safety surfaced as a focal area, with conversations pertaining to safety and hygiene standards in the pork and vegetable supply chains. Participants considered specific aspects of food safety such as awareness, accountability, and the enforcement of regulations.
  • Barriers: Aligning with SHiFT’s Work Package 3, which focuses on governance and inclusive food systems, participants discussed existing barriers, or “lock-ins,” that make it difficult to implement solutions. Ideas to overcome barriers were exchanged, with participants identifying potential entry points where new practices could be introduced into food value chains.
  • Consumer trust: In both the pork and vegetable sectors, participants recognized the value of building trust with consumers through transparent communication. Media channels and information sources were suggested that could help communicate about production processes to the public.
  • Collaboration: Discussions emphasized the importance of collaboration among various stakeholders in food value chains. Participants discussed the need of local ‘champions’ to implement local food initiatives, while acknowledging that strong, broad partnerships between farmers, communities, governments, and the private sector are integral to navigate food systems transformation at large.

By providing an opportunity for stakeholders and researchers to collaborate, the Missing Middle workshop represents a continued stride toward sustainable food systems transformation in Viet Nam. Identifying strategies for bridging the missing middle is crucial for ensuring actors across value chains can improve coordination and address complex challenges.

The Missing Middle project is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) as one of its Joint Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) research initiatives, which aims to encourage research that contributes to achieving the SDGs in low- and middle-income countries to the benefit of the most vulnerable people. Quoc Nguyen is completing his PhD at WUR, which is jointly funded by CGIAR and NWO.

The International Food Policy Research Institute and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT lead SHiFT in close collaboration with Wageningen University & Research and with contributions from the International Potato Center. SHiFT combines high-quality nutritional and social science research capacity with development partnerships to generate innovative, robust solutions that contribute to healthier, more sustainable dietary choices and consumption of sustainable healthy diets. It builds on CGIAR’s unparalleled track record of agricultural research for development, including ten years of work on food systems and nutrition under the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

Header image: People buying and selling fresh food in a market. Photo by UN Women Asia and the Pacific from Flickr.

This news item was written by Sydney Honeycutt, Communications Consultant. 

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