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What makes a successful woman farmer? – Meet Tran Thi Be

This is the story of Ms. Tran Thi Be. She is a farmer and currently cultivates over two hectares of high-quality rice varieties in Tra Khua hamlet, Long Thanh commune, Vinh Loi district, Bac Lieu province, in Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Tran Thi Be standing in her beautiful and vast rice field.

Rice production in the Mekong Delta

Rice production has a long history in the Mekong Delta. The staple has played a crucial role in providing food and income for generations. Tran Thi Be’s family has a tradition of agricultural production and she decided to follow in her father's footsteps. She has worked in her family’s field since she was 16 years old. While she left school after graduating 6th grade, this did not stop her learning. Outside the classroom, she pursued knowledge wherever she could find it - from agricultural extension services, training sessions and neighboring farmers. Now, as she approaches 60-years old, she has accumulated 40 years of first-hand rice-growing experience.

Working hard, not (yet) smart

When she was young, Tran Thi Be was strong enough to do all of the rice production work on her own, including land preparation, spraying pesticides, and fertilizing. It was hard work but saved them the cost of hiring workers. Unfortunately, her lack of knowledge and experience, particularly in dealing with pests and diseases, meant productivity and profits were low. As a result, it was difficult to increase her family’s living standards.

Climate change issues in the Mekong Delta

There were more challenges ahead, though. Climate change has been problematic for farmers in the Mekong Delta. In the coastal regions, such as Bac Lieu province where Tran Thi Be lives, increasing salinity is just one climate change stressor she needs to deal with.

Heavy rain is another challenge, and probably the biggest threat to her fields in recent years. With no male family members to take care of labor-intensive tasks, tending the paddy fields is increasingly difficult for the elderly woman.

A fierce entrepreneurial spirit

These challenges have not dented her spirit and, unlike many households in her hamlet, she refuses to engage in non-agricultural occupations or move to the cities for work.

She says, “No matter how difficult agricultural production is, I’m still the owner of my own business. I am not an employee of anyone else. I believe farming will help me and other women become successful and financially independent – as long as we keep trying and keep learning new things.”

Working smart – the power of self-education and collaborative working

This pursuit of knowledge has been a key part of Tran Thi Be’s success. Her self-guided education has helped her identify rice pests and diseases and treat them independently. She also collaborates with other farmers in her village to make use of machinery that solves the labor resourcing issues her family has faced.

For nearly five years, Tran Thi Be has also turned her self-taught expertise to the cultivation of higher-quality rice varieties. These varieties demand a high level of technical production knowledge to grow successfully but can sell at a higher price. This strategy has helped her increase her family’s income and expand her farm to two hectares. Her efforts have caught the attention of her local government which has recognized her as an “excellent female farmer” for many years.

Future hopes for female farmers

In the future, she hopes to have the opportunity to learn more through local training courses. She also wants to share what she’s learned, as she says “agriculture is not just for men. Women can still become independent and succeed thanks to farming.” By passing on her decades of experience to other female farmers, Tran Thi Be hopes to help them not only to develop their rice farming knowledge, but to become stronger and more independent.

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