In a country with a long natural agricultural tradition, it’s still a challenge to shop organic.
Last Updated: November 04.2014
- International concern about artificially-treated produce has led to the development of organic standards systems with exacting requirements
- Organic standards are not well-understood and are less strict in Vietnam, meaning demand for organic produce is low
- Fake labelling of food as organic in local markets goes punished
- A local organic industry is emerging, with local standards regulating domestic products, and international standards regulating products for export
- Local supermarkets carry domestic organic produce, which is labelled against less stringent conditions than imported organic food
- Vietphu is one well-known local organic farm producing rice and vegetables, and Chan Nguyen is a local organic restaurant
Agriculture is not as it once was. After a century of chemical additives, pesticides, and genetic tomfoolery, farming today has started to take on the air of the laboratory, and the weird science practiced in modern agriculture has been accused of causing life-long negative impacts on consumers’ health. There’s been a growing resistance to these practices worldwide. Since 1998, and most recently on the 21st of October 2002, the American Agricultural Department announced the institution of a labelling system to help consumers distinguish between chemically modified and completely unaltered, natural, “organic” produce.
Organic in the Market
The definition of organic food and its flow-on effects for consumption have just exploded on the Vietnamese stage. Currently there are many forums discussing these issues, especially focussed on concerns from mothers trying to find organic food supposed to be good for the development of their kids, and where to buy the real thing. However, organic food in the Vietnamese market is relatively underdeveloped and not well-organised.
You won’t find organic food easily at the markets here. Most organic food is relatively expensive compared to regular produce, and it is not a priority choice for most Vietnamese families in terms of their budget and affordability. In local markets, what defines organic food (popularly referred to in Vietnam as green/clean/safe food) is far from clear.
It’s the definition that’s the problem. Few Vietnamese people fully understand the concept of organic food and its standards, and there are a number of reasons for this:
- The commercial process in Vietnam is much shorter compared to first world countries where food products travel a long distance and across many intermediaries (farmer, producer, packaging units, and several levels of distributors) before arriving in consumer hands, and the food has to undergo more processing stages. Unsafe inorganic food is thus less of an issue (although this is changing rapidly).
- The marketing of large food corporations has muddied the concept.
- Government regulations regarding food safety are as yet unclear.
There are other issues at play here: food supply sources to local markets, for example, are varied, uncontrolled, and unreliable with many undependable sources and no formal authority controlling official sources and their quality. The inappropriate transportation and preservation conditions (high humidity and temperatures) in local markets can badly damage the quality of products, even those originally clean and healthy. Apart from these causes, sellers have almost no disincentive against advertising non-organic food as organic, and thus charging unreasonable prices – which in turn has raised scepticism amongst doubting buyers. Sources of organic food in Vietnam are still rare, and there is an appreciably low availability in supply for local markets.
There is no official regulation to fine sellers or producers for falsely labelling food for sale as organic. Many cases have been reported that in local markets, merchants often cheat customers with fake organic food sold at high prices with impunity and in most circumstances, only the buyer will suffer the consequences.
Organic food is certainly available in Vietnam – although most of it couldn’t be called 100% organic. Up in Hanoi, the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) grants the authority to place certified organic food labels on vegetables. Besides this, there are two global organisations that can issue certification for organic foods in Vietnam, including GlobalGAP (Global Good Agricultural Practice) and Organic-Bio. Some imported organic food is certified against national standards instituted by other countries.
Nevertheless, according to information from the After Harvest Tech Centre in HCMC, in order to gain international certification, organic products must qualify under exacting standards – no hormones, no antibiotics, no pesticides, no grass-killing substances, no chemical fertilisers, no genetic manipulation, no sterilisation by laser, no scent additives, no chemical colours, and no preservative substances. In addition, in Vietnam, they must also comply with Government Regulation No.80 in terms of distribution channels, especially for organic rice products. For these reasons there are not many companies, suppliers, or producers satisfying these requirements, and consequently in the Vietnamese market it is very difficult to find truly organic food.
A rare representative of Vietnamese organic produce certified by the locally-based Control Union Certification B.V. (Netherlands) is Vien Phu Joint Stock Company in Ca Mau province. At Vien Phu Farm visitors can witness the whole process of making organic rice, as well as other foods such as fruit, vegetables, seafood, and poultry. Their prices are relatively high in local markets – their most important product, rice, ranges from VND35-59k/kg, compared to ordinary rice at VND14k/kg. Holding global organic food certification (reflecting consistent quality to global standards), this opens the gate for exports to Europe and North America.
Besides this brand, local supermarkets in Ho Chi Minh City such as Coopmart, BigC, Lottemart, Maximart, and Metro stock produce from large companies (Tigifoods, Mecofood, South Food, ITA-RICE, and Gentraco) that have been certified by GlobalGap with prices for rice ranging from VND15-22k/kg.
In the supermarkets, it’s easier to find products certified by VietGap (Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices) as being safer and cleaner for consumer health than regular produce. Less stringent than GlobalGap and Organic-Bio requirements, VietGap measures four requirements:
- Production Tech standards
- Safe foods, in terms of no chemical substance infection & physical pollution after being harvested
- Working environment that avoids exploitation of farmers’ labour
- Product origin tracking to define issues from production to consumption
Moreover, there are more than 12 regulations involved in the main factors of agricultural production for farmers to take notice of and practice. This local standard is commonly thought to be effective domestically, although produce carrying the VietGAP label may not match up to what is generally understood as being purely organic overseas. These foods can be easily identified in the fresh food section in supermarkets with plastic covering and labels with the VietGap logo.
VietGap-certified products include:
- Rice from Hong Dan Practice Center
- Vegetables from Phuoc An, Tho Viet & Tan Trung Cooperatives, Huong Canh Company Ltd
- Meat from Vissan
- Mandarins from Hau Giang Cooperative
- Cherries Go Cong Cooperative
These companies also supply other non-organic produce – look for the VietGAP label to be sure.
The prices of products with the VietGap logo are also high, and are therefore only found in supermarkets targeting higher-income customers.
In short, Vietnamese organic products intended for export tend to focus on carrying GlobalGap & Organic-Bio certification. For native consumers, the local VietGap standard is more feasible and achievable with less capital, labour, and time investment for all producers and farmers.
If expats living in Ho Chi Minh City require international-standard organic products, the best way is to search for imported products with international certification and reliable brands (eg. milk) in supermarkets.
You might find something closer to what you’re looking for in specialty stores around the country, many of which have outlets for their produce in this city.
- Veggy’s sell organic produce as well as locally-grown non-organic food. They also have a range of imported foreign products, some of which are organic.
- 29A, Le Thanh Ton, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 38238526S53-1-S54-1, Pham Van Nghi, Tan Phong, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 54102613
Veggy’s main organic produce supplier, Golden Garden Company located in Dalat, runs an organic farm under investment from the New Zealand government. Photos of the farm are posted on the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. Aside from local Vietnamese vegetables grown at the Dalat farm, Golden Garden also imports NZ organic meats, cheese, and vegetables that cannot be grown in Vietnam.
Golden Garden | 47 Van Hanh, Ward 8, Dalat | 06 3381 2439
Organic products can be ordered directly through their English website and delivered in HCMC.
Opened and managed by a Canadian husband and Canadian Vietkieu wife team with the aid of a Doctor of Agriculture, Organik Dalat JVC was the first company to explore the organic food business in Vietnam. The firm is certified with the Euro seal of quality, recognising that its products meet the standards for import into Europe. Customers in HCMC can place orders directly through their English language website.
Organik Dalat JVC | Da Tho Village, Xuan Tho, Dalat, Lam Dong, Vietnam | 84 63 3998558
Organik Shop | 21, Thao Dien, Thao Dien, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | 84 8 37446950
Thanh Xuan Organics is a community-based initiative providing fresh organic vegetables to Hanoians and sustainable incomes for poor farmers from the rural outskirts of Hanoi. Development of the farm was aided by agricultural scientists of Denmark and funding was provided by an Australian development agency named AusAid. The farm and its organic produces are ADDA (a Denmark-based certificate of quality) approved. Organic vegetables and eggs can be bought directly from its English language website.
Bai Thuong Village, Thanh Xuan, Soc Son, Ha Noi, Vietnam | 84 4 62702506 / 84 166 8874588
The Organic Farm of the College of North Agriculture and Rural Developmentis based in Km38 Xuan Mai Commune, in Chuong My Distrist, Hanoi (034 3840 3201). There are currently also organic farms based in the Dinh Bang Communein Tu Son , Bac Ninh Province; the Dinh Trung Communein Vinh Yen City, Vinh Phuc Province; and at Ta Van Commune, Sapa District, Lao Cai Province.
These farms supply organic foods to upscale Vietnamese restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets. While just about anybody can visit their farms and buy produce, end-customers are not their main target market, and unless you know exactly where their distribution points are, the only way to buy their products is through a trip to the farms themselves.
The following is a list of organic stores and companies which distribute organic products in HCMC and Hanoi:
For organic dining out in Saigon, try Chan Nguyen restaurant at 96H, Vo Thi Sau, Tan Dinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.