Biophap: Pioneers in promoting organic agricultural practices
Huynh Dinh Ha Giang (Tyna Giang), co-founder and general director of organic agribusiness Biophap, has won the trust of the Bahnar ethnic group in the Central Highlands region who have willingly shifted from burning forests to farm to organic agriculture with Biophap.
Countering the stream
After finishing Danang University of Economics in 2005, Tyna Giang left for Paris (France) for further study on economics and then a Master’s degree on hotel and tourism management at Vatel Hotel and Tourism Management School in Argentine.
She then found a decent job and had a small happy family in Paris. In 2015, when Tyna Giang decided to return home and founded Biophap with the ambition to build a pioneering organic food value chain, she was met with strong criticism from friends and relatives.
She even chose a 14ha land plot deep in the forest belonging to Dak Phe commune in Kon Tum province’s Kon Ray district to develop her first farm. At the time, the living conditions there were very primitive: no concrete roads, no power lines, and no mobile and television frequencies.
Giang, therefore, faced a multitude of difficulties at the initial stages.
“After nearly a decade of living abroad, my Vietnamese was not very good, plus I only had limited knowledge about agriculture as I was trained on hotel and tourism management. I was young, did not understood the local culture, and did not speak the language (Bahnar people have their own language) – and these were only a few of the many difficulties,” she recalled.
Giang shared that she chose to embark on a business carreer promoting organic food use in Vietnam because although she had limited knowledge about organic agriculture, she has been a consumer of organic food for years, and had the necessary expertise in management.
With the ambition of changing the perception of Vietnamese agricultural products in the world market, Giang has spared no efforts in making her dream come true.
She believes she could reach the target by leveraging the country’s long-standing agricultural tradition, favourable demographics (young and fast-growing population with a strong thirst for learning), and very promising labour and consumer markets.
“I wanted to change the deep-rooted tradition of local people to burn forests to gain arable land and turn them towards sustainable organic agriculture instead. The Central Highlands’ people live on the forest resources and to integrate them into modern life would require a fresh model and support from the whole value chain,” Giang said.
The Biophap philosophy
Biophap’s project first involved 10 Bahnar households in Dak Phe commune.
“My passion and trust alone are not enough for the project’s success, as it is essential to share the trust and the ambition with colleagues, particularly people participating in the project,” Giang said.
Giang recalled that in the first days, Bahnar people were unwilling to communicate with her. However, her perseverance gradually eroded opposition and those joining her were happy to resume production on the land plots they were given by the state years before and were then left deserted ever since.
Biophap’s business philosophy focuses on three core values: organic production, social ethics, and breakthrough innovation. Initially, the company invested in every stage, from crop breeds to fertilisers and associated expenses.
From last year, the fourth year of co-operation, local farmers could cover their own breed and fertiliser expenses. The soil has been improved and long-term crops have been grown mingled with short-term crops.
The project has changed local inhabitants’ agricultural methods as they now have self-formed co-operatives to promote organic agriculture on old plantations.
Following the commitment “Fair for Life” under Biophap’s project, Bahnar people have reported significantly improved living conditions. Negative phenomena like premature marriages, alcoholism and environmental pollution have reduced remarkably.
Initially, Biophap focused on building a value chain for pepper, while simultaneously growing several other kinds of crops. The company’s experts tested growing special crops from Europe, such as rosemary and herbal plants, kiwi or blueberry that offer higher economic values.
As of now, Biophap’s farming areas grow more than 20 kinds of crops, several dozen types of herbs, as well as fruits and
spices. The farm has shipped more than one tonnes of organic curcumin powder and hundreds of kilogrammes of herbal materials to domestic and foreign organic food outlet chains at a price far higher than non-organic products.
From the initial project, last year Biophap extended the production area to 100ha to include pepper growing farms in Gia Lai and neighbouring locations.
Biophap has been investing in processing and a high-tech IT system. Each crop in the farm, input materials or climate conditions are being traced and digitalised. Global customers only have to use their smartphones or tablets to trace all the information they need from input materials to diverse production phases through simple QR codes.
Biophap’s products have been registered to reach international organic food quality standards with certificates provided by prestigious organisations such as USDA, JAS, AB, and Fair for Life.
According to Biophap’s CEO Tyna Giang, her company’s greatest success is the trust from local farmers, business partners, and the local government. Their ultimate target is to encourage local farmers to engage deeper into value chains. Therefore, besides innovative development and the application of modern technology into farm management, Biophap has collected products from farmers at higher prices and deducted 10 per cent of its profit to develop new models of organic agriculture.
Riding to the high seas
Biophap’s initial target is to bring “Made in Vietnam” organic products to Europe, a market which Giang knows well.
After reaping initial success with her farm, Giang believes their products could conquer big Asian markets, such as South Korea and Japan.
It is also important to boost sales in the domestic market which holds great potential as local people are becoming more aware of organic food.
“The organic food market has been and will always be a high growing market, but the number of professional suppliers is still limited in Vietnam. I do believe that with suitable policies to support farmers and the application of innovative technologies as well as diverse stakeholder engagement in the supply chain, Vietnam would be among the leaders in organic food development,” said Giang.
Early last year, Biophap became one of seven organic agriculture businesses of Vietnam invited to join the world’s leading event on organic food, Biofach in Germany, which attracted thousands of similar players from around the world.
Despite being a first-time participant, Biophap’s products received praise from the international community and a string of orders were placed right at the occasion.
The company, however, needs larger investments to feed its business expansion plans.
“Convincing foreign investors is not easy at first, but I could prove investors that Biophap’s model not only matches contemporary development needs, but also creates social and environmental values,” Giang said, unveiling that several investment funds and foreign investors express interest in co-operation and they will soon announce deals to the public.