This review examines the development and subsequent wide-scale adoption of best management practices known as 1 Must Do and 5 Reductions (1M5R) in Vietnam. The widespread adoption of 1M5R as a foundation for the promotion of sustainable rice production in the Mekong River Delta is an impressive success story. The success not only strengthened the economic status of smallholder farmers but also provided a strong platform for promoting sustainably produced rice for both national and international markets.
Recent analyses of yield gaps for lowland rice production identified opportunities to positively address yield shortfalls through the adoption of best management practices. Subsequent trials of such best practices in the fields of farmers in Thailand and Vietnam showed increased production while reducing the amount of water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
Further studies in Vietnam also have reported a significant reduction in greenhouse gases when best management practices for irrigated rice are implemented. There are also increases in rice yield when best water management practices are followed. Enabling the adoption of these best management practices is a crucial next step.
Vietnam is a major exporter of rice, with the Mekong River Delta (MRD) producing approximately 90% of the rice that is exported. Farmers in the MRD typically have less than 5 hectares for rice production, but they overuse chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can have detrimental effects on water quality, biodiversity, and human health.
Various initiatives in the country aimed to address these problems through the introduction of sustainable rice production technologies. More recently, a national program promoted best management practices through “1 Must Do and 5 Reductions” (1M5R). It is essential to understand the outcomes of this initiative and trace the plausible pathways to capture the learning related to sustainability transitions.
This review examines the development and subsequent wide-scale adoption of best management practices known as 1M5R in Vietnam. Veering away from equating the process of scaling with knowledge dissemination, we focus on the process of socio-technical change, which multiple actors have implemented. We do this through a review of secondary materials, comprising published papers as well as reports and presentations. These are complemented by interviews with actors directly involved in the development and scaling of 1M5R.
The interview respondents were from varied stakeholder groups: researcher, policymaker, extension intermediary, and the private sector. Documenting this process contributes the a better understanding of sustainability transitions.
The widespread adoption of 1M5R as a foundation for the promotion of sustainable rice production in the Mekong River Delta is an impressive success story. The success not only strengthened the economic status of smallholder farmers but also provided a strong platform for promoting sustainably produced rice for both national and international markets. At the national level alone, there is compelling evidence that people in larger cities in southern Vietnam are prepared to pay a premium for what they perceive to be healthier rice.
The scaling of 1M5R in the Mekong River delta of Vietnam that is examined in this review showed a series of events including incentives through policy change, adaptive actions, and the creation of a supportive context for adoption, including the incentives provided through the VnSAT project. The process of socio-technical change that embedded 1M5R practices into the routines of rice farmers was affected by multiple actors in a complex process.
This was built on the work of a niche of stakeholders who implemented adaptive research and provided a basis for technical and policy recommendations. With this evidence, strategic communication and policy backing were used to introduce and promote 1M5R. We initially expected that the scaling process involved one socio-technical system focused on 1M5R, which, in turn, was reshaped by the diverse range of actors and interest groups involved. In this review, we found a convergence of varied socio-technical systems, each with a different focus, which has promoted 1M5R in various ways.
We find, for example, that the initiatives regarding a sustainability certification, whether for the standards established under VietGAP or Sustainable Rice Platform, linked different intermediaries and created new institutional arrangements. These are not specific to the promotion 1M5R, because the standards entail other technologies and practices, beyond 1M5R. The intermediaries, however, used 1M5R as a technology base and employed certification and infrastructure support as incentive mechanisms for the adoption of 1M5R.
This is a separate socio-technical system, with its own specific focus, incentives, and technologies. A study on sustainability standards and certification in global food chains found that multi-stakeholder partnerships enable the co-creation of standards to fit local norms, rules, and practices. In applying these, the group of actors is (re)shaping the socio-technical system. Another socio-technical system, around the consolidation of production through an LRF model, is focused on strengthening these groups’ voice when engaging with traders.
The LRF model promoted horizontal coordination among farmers and also showed there several types of contract arrangements were made, and the vertical integration between farmers and exporters in the MRD of Vietnam facilitated these arrangements.
The focus of this socio-technical system was not a technology; however, in the training for consolidated production, 1M5R was promoted to farmers. A study on the adoption of aquaculture technologies in Vietnam also showed why the clustering of producers resulted in higher levels of adoption of sustainable production technologies and that the frequency of interaction and trust among farmers, as well as between the farmers and value chain stakeholders (vertical integration), influenced their adoption decisions.
The initiatives around contract farming form yet another socio-technical system with specific organizational arrangements, incentives, and rules. These rules and arrangements are implemented by rice traders and input suppliers (often the same company in the MDR), together with other stakeholders. The focus is on providing inputs and services, and then buying the produce. In this system, sustainability may not always be the main interest, but there are intermediaries interested in buying sustainably produced rice. Considering this, they also promote 1M5R and integrate the practice in their contract arrangements.
The convergence of these varied socio-technical systems, including knowledge extension, group formation, group learning, and reshaping interest and incentives, led to an alignment of the practices of farmers and 1M5R. A notable part of this process is the bridging that is conducted by the different intermediaries. Some intermediaries are common across different systems. They influence the processes happening in parallel. Such innovation brokering has been highlighted by others. At the same time, these intermediaries do not always share the same focus, motivation, or interest.
Thus, there are often conflicts, negotiations, balancing, and trade-offs at play. While some actors may be keen on reducing pesticides or fertilizers, for example, others may not be as interested. These complexities happen concurrently when farmers learn 1M5R. An aspect that requires more research is the transition processes that moderate the conflicting interests and challenges in aligning these different strategies, actors, and activities. It would also be of interest to see how other technologies approved at the national level could build upon 1M5R, and extend the technological options that are included.
This case emphasizes that scaling is not solely a process within the socio-technical system of the innovation in question, in this case, 1M5R. The interconnections of varied socio-technical systems are enacted by different intermediaries that catalyze the spread of 1M5R. Previous studies on scaling indicate that this convergence can shape frameworks and everyday practices, integrating the innovation. Furthermore, the economic mechanisms and contextual factors underlying specific policies can make or break the momentum and lead to eventual success in scaling sustainable technologies.
In the MRD, there were economic benefits to the farmers who adopted 1M5R, which maintained the momentum for the outreach of best practices for sustainable rice production. While supportive policies may be present, an alignment is required between incentive mechanisms, institutional factors, knowledge, and markets, alongside the adapted technologies. The scaling of 1M5R was not a simple linear process from research to adoption, nor was it solely pushed by a top-down implementation of policies.
These insights from 1M5R could be useful for other countries that have programs where a tested set of technologies is being promoted at a national level; for example, Integrated Crop Management in Indonesia. Understanding the process of this review provides insights for the scaling of other innovations in the agricultural sector and for sustainability transition.
Read the study:
Flor RJ, Tuan LA, Hung NV, My Phung NT, Connor M, Stuart AM, Sander BO, Wehmeyer H, Cao BT, Tchale H, Singleton GR (2021) Unpacking the processes that catalyzed the adoption of best management practices for lowland irrigated rice in the Mekong Delta. Agronomy 11(9):1707.