Government investment into organic farming in Vietnam has paid off, and farmers around Da Lat, in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, have been able to yield higher agricultural output and profitability.

The increase in organic farming over the last five years has largely been the result of government and scientific initiatives designed to reduce the poverty of farmers, which experts believe is in large part attributable to fertilisers and insecticides. Not only increasingly expensive, such chemical farming tools are also detrimental to the farmers' health and environment.

Organic agriculture can actually cost up to five times the amount spent on modern chemicals for crop improvement however, and has demanded a huge investment. Organic crops require careful tending, with money necessarily spent on irrigation, imported stocks of plants and micro-organic fertilisers and insecticides. The Lam Dong Agricultural Promotion Centre has researched organic vegetable production since 1995 and cultivation technology courses have been run at the Science Technology and Environment Department for the last three years. The latter institute also supported households growing organic vegetables by supplying production facilities.

Finding a market for the premium priced product is also proving difficult. Within the domestic market, consumers are relatively unaware of the benefits of organic food. The quality of Vietnamese agricultural products has a bad reputation for failing to make the export or processing grade and only a small percentage of the organic produce is exported to about 40 countries. Producers are hoping that further integration into the European and US markets will be possible when Da Lat has seen the establishment of both an association for organic producers and a flight network to Singapore.

Currently, around 377,000ha of land is used for the production of nearly 70 types of vegetables in Vietnam, with each hectare producing an average of 15 tonnes a year. The government is hoping however that within ten years, Vietnamese farmers will be harvesting around 20m tonnes of organic fruit and vegetables for export and domestic consumption. Da Latcity has become the focus of that goal, with good land and many farmer inhabitants.

Experts agree that organic production is entirely worthwhile, financially and agriculturally, and they hope that the 50ha currently farmed near Da Lat will increase as the farming methods become more popular to producers.