Returning to her roots
Updated: Apr 22
This is the story of Nguyen Thi Sen's journey with farming after her return from the city.
Nguyen Thi Sen is a vegetable farmer in Lam Dong province in the Central Highlands. It is, according to her, a nutritious land renowned for the freshest and most delicious fruit and vegetables in Vietnam. Despite this reputation, she left the farm to work in the city. Her health suffered, and she wasn’t earning enough to be comfortable in the city. In 2017, she returned to her hometown to run a farm business and she hasn’t looked back since.
She was born and raised in Lam Dong province's Duc Trong district. In her town, most prior generations made their living cultivating vegetables. Although plants thrived on the red soil in the area, farmers were over-reliant on chemical inputs to boost yield. As a result, their output's quantity and quality gradually declined. Faced with reducing and unstable income, the next generation left their land and immigrated to the industrial zone for work. Nguyen Thi Sen followed suit. After ten years as a sewing worker, she found herself exhausted from the long and antisocial hours. Her physical wellbeing was affected, and she felt depressed. She wondered if returning to her family roots in agriculture might be an option.
In the end, her family directly impacted her choice to make a career in farming. While her family were farmers by tradition, her parents were aging and could no longer work the fields. They sold their land and became financially dependent on Nguyen Thi Sen.
This was the tipping point for her. After discussing with her husband, she realized that this was an opportunity to improve her health and take care of her parents – a win-win situation! She resigned from her job in the industrial zone and returned home. She was under no illusion that it would be easy, saying "Farming is hard work, but I'm free and can work with a flexible schedule, unlike working in a factory.”
The first two years were particularly hard. Her knowledge was steeped in the conventional methods she had been exposed to when she was younger – including misused pesticides, over-applied fertilisers and poor pest/disease identification and control. The lack of capital was also a challenge. As her parents had sold the family land, her land was rented and in poor condition. On top of the rent, she also had to spend money to improve her irrigation systems, drill wells, buy seeds, fertilisers and pesticides and pay plowing fees. The set-up was so expensive that she had to ask her friends to lend her money.
Even with all this investment, they nearly failed. Their early specialism in tomato cultivation was nearly disastrous. Due to low productivity and low prices she lost nearly 50 million VND per year. Together with her husband, she decided to diversify out of tomatoes and began to rotate crops depending on the weather. Their flexible approach allowed them to be more resilient as the prices of vegetables continued to fluctuate. Over time, their ability to predict the weather and select more appropriate vegetable has improved and she has successfully grown everything from cucumbers and courgettes to potatoes and onions.
Once she has accumulated enough capital, she aims to expand her farm and promote her produce online.
While it hasn’t been an easy journey to get where she is today, she says she loves her job and notes that her mental health is much better now. She hopes her story can be inspire other female farmers.
She says, "Every job is hard. Farming is even harder, but it's enjoyable. Female farmers will succeed if we keep eager to learn new things and continue to improve on our conventional practices. Last but not least, the most important thing for other female farmers is to take care of their health, and then they can do everything effectively."