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On former battlefields, Vietnam's pepper crop yields a brighter future

Roots of Peace provides Vietnamese farmers with training, seeds, and tools that have helped their pepper orchards to thrive.

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    Vietnamese pepper farmers use long bamboo ladders to harvest their crop.
    Courtesy of Roots of Peace
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In Vietnam, on land that was recently riddled with landmines and unexploded ordnances, now stands a thriving pepper orchard. It is harvest time in central Vietnam and all over the region, working through the scorching heat, farmers and their families collect the valuable peppercorns from 20-foot tall vines and prepare their crops for export.

Harvesting pepper is a process that usually involves the entire family. This is the time of year when the long bamboo ladders come out, propped precariously against pepper poles. Farmers, armed with satchels slung around their shoulders that are ready to be filled with vibrant green peppercorns, climb to the top to collect the fruits of their labors.

For farmers working as part of a Roots of Peace pilot project who have waited a bit longer to harvest, these peppercorns turn a burgundy or deep red color, indicating their additional ripeness and increased value.

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This year, the Roots of Peace pepper farmers in Vietnam are experiencing an excellent harvest, producing much higher yields and higher quality pepper than even the most positive predictions had expected. In Quang Tri, a province in the former DMZ, most Roots of Peace farmers have about 200 pepper trees in their orchards, with each tree producing between one and two kilograms [two to four pounds] of dried pepper.

With pepper prices exceeding the $10/kg mark this year, a 30 percent jump on last year, this bountiful harvest means that most of our partner farmers will receive an average income of $2,000 for their pepper crop – a significant amount in rural Vietnam where the average total income per capita is about $850.

Since 1997, Roots of Peace has been working to improve the lives of communities in post-conflict regions around the world by making the land safe for farmers to work and restore their economic livelihoods. In places like Afghanistan, Croatia, Israel, and the West Bank, our programs have facilitated the removal of landmines, and other remnants of war, and returned the land back to profitability.

Roots of Peace focuses on post-conflict communities where agriculture is a fundamental industry and a major source of employment. Our programs provide technical assistance to farmers and traders, helping them improve their crops and meet the demands of local, regional, and international markets in order to maximize their income.

In Vietnam, Roots of Peace has worked with over 2,000 pepper farmers to improve their economic livelihoods through the SHADE Program. SHADE provides a series of classroom and field trainings, covering contemporary farming techniques for activities ranging from planting to disease prevention to harvest and post-harvest handling. The program also offers farmers a set of discounted inputs (seedlings, tools, etc.) as part of its buy-in criteria. Farmers contribute at least 50 percent of the cost of these items, which drives their commitment and ensures that participants feel respected as partners, rather than recipients of handouts.

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Tran Thi Van of Quang Tri province is just one example of a Roots of Peace pepper farmer who has greatly benefited from the program. A mother of five, Mrs. Van has been participating in SHADE for over a year now and the results are obvious: Her pepper orchard is healthy and thriving thanks to the training she received.

“We had a bad pepper orchard before. But since we participated in the trainings, we’ve been able to successfully apply the input package with a real visible improvement. I feel happier, more encouraged by the higher yields of the pepper trees,” she says.

For farmers like Mrs. Van, the increased income she is now earning from her thriving pepper orchard means that she can cover the costs of her basic needs and invest in the future of her children and grandchildren. With the success of this year’s harvest, the future for Mrs. Van, and all other Roots of Peace farmers, is bright.

Heidi Kuhn is founder and CEO of Roots of Peace.

This article was originally posted on SkollWorldForum.org.

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