Photo: Nguyen Ngoc Huyen/ILRI

In Vietnam, change is the word of the moment -- and change has been swift and everywhere. Rates of population, urbanization, and income are all growing, while poverty rates are falling. Yet Vietnam still faces many challenges: according to a 2016 report from the Vietnam National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), rates of undernourishment of children under age five are still at 24.6 percent, while a 2011 report showed the percentage of overweight children increased extremely rapidly between 2000 and 2010, from 0.62 to 5.6 percent. The country struggles with environmental threats from unsustainable intensification; ensuring food safety; and creating job opportunities for young people.

Society-wide transitions are challenging to navigate, and even more so when the changes come quickly. Vietnam is suddenly full of more people, flocking to its cities, with more money and more food choices than ever before. Its rapidly evolving food systems, markets, and healthcare make this Southeast Asian nation a natural focus for A4NH.

A4NH's work in Vietnam is coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), with support from the International Food Policy Research Institute, Bioversity International, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and Wageningen University & Research. This coalition works closely with national partners including NIN, the Hanoi University of Public Health, the National Institute of Veterinary Research, the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, and groups such as the platform on Markets and Agriculture for Cities (MALICA).

A4NH’s work in Vietnam is focused around four of the program’s five research flagships:

Food Systems for Healthier Diets
In Vietnam, diets are changing rapidly and interventions need to be carefully targeted to assure healthy transitions. A4NH researchers consider multiple entry points into communities, with a particular focus on women and youth, including schools, and traditional to modern markets in neighborhoods as spaces to influence purchasing decisions. To understand connections between consumer choice and diet diversity, they are studying the influence of urban food environments and retail diversity, together with nutrition and food safety knowledge and attitudes, on consumer decision making, and subsequently diet quality. In working with producers, they are looking at how innovative incentives might impact decisions made by smallholders, a critical producer group in Vietnam. To better understand markets and how policies might address the broad and varying food sector, they are studying and assessing both urban and rural settings. As the pieces of the puzzle come more into focus, researchers can work with policymakers on targeted interventions in the broader food system to provide opportunities for healthier diets in this dynamic setting. Read more about Flagship 1 and A4NH's work on Food Systems in Vietnam, as well as other news and updates on this topic.

Food Safety
In Vietnam, the average person consumes nearly 30 kg of pork per year. Most comes from very small farms and is sold in traditional wet markets. Food safety is a high priority for the Vietnamese government, yet establishing regulations in this type of environment is challenging. A4NH researchers from ILRI have been working closely with government officials to better understand hazards and assess risks, and contributed to “Viet Nam Food Safety Management: Challenges and Opportunities,” convened by the government of Vietnam. A4NH research has provided critical evidence on the safety of perishable foods and the importance of traditional markets, the first-ever quantitative assessment of Salmonella in pork, and the first-ever cost of illness of food-borne diseases. Armed with this kind of knowledge, researchers and officials are working with a coalition of national and international partners to improve pork safety by developing, testing, and promoting incentive-based interventions and recommendations that are equitable, sustainable, and scalable.

Researchers are also studying other areas of food safety, including the impact of aflatoxin, a mold that affects crops and can be harmful to humans and animals, and ways to mitigate this threat; and risks associated with chemical hazards including antibiotics, heavy metals, and banned chemicals in pork, which impact the pig value chains. Read more about Flagship 3 and A4NH's work on Food Safety in Vietnam, as well as other news and updates on this topic.

Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Supporting Policies, Programs, and Enabling Research Through Action (SPEAR)
One component of A4NH’s research focuses on looking at the overall policy environment and how research can inform and support policy decisions. To better understand the political and broader environmental determinants of change in nutrition, researchers will undertake a Stories of Change in Nutrition study in Vietnam. Part of a larger series of studies in process around the world, work in Vietnam seeks to identify the main drivers of stunting reduction in recent years. This involves looking at the history of the issue, the policy environment, and the larger nutritional situation in Vietnam, including food availability and diet diversity. Read more about Flagship 4 and A4NH's work on Supporting Policies, Programs, and Enabling Action Through Research in Vietnam, as well as other news and updates on this topic.

Improving Human Health
As A4NH seeks to understand and mitigate agriculture’s impacts on human health, researchers are assessing risks associated with anti-microbial resistance, particularly as they impact the pig and poultry value chains; implementing an intervention study for a rationalized use of antimicrobials in livestock production; and conducting preliminary qualitative studies to inform effective antimicrobial stewardship policy and action by understanding how antibiotics are used by smallholder farmers and their animal health networks.

A4NH researchers are also investigating pig-associated neglected zoonoses like trichinella and cysticercosis, and emerging diseases including Japanese encephalitis. With partners, they have developed risk maps for climate-sensitive diseases, and will soon begin studying agriculture-associated vector-borne diseases in urban areas.