Cà chua': no idea what the exact pronunciation is, but this is the Vietnamese word for tomato. In the province of Lam Dong, tomato cultivation is becoming ever more efficient… thanks to the Belgian Province of East Flanders know-how.
Lam Dong is located in the southeast of Vietnam. It is the country’s vegetable garden, with greenhouses full of vegetables and ornamental plants. And that is not the only similarity with the Province of East Flanders. The provincial capital of Da Lat is known for its biotechnological research, just like East Flemish capital Ghent. 'The first contacts between the provinces of East Flanders and Lam Dong date back to 2000', says provincial deputy mrs. Martine Verhoeve, already answering our first question.
What does the province of East Flanders look for in Vietnam? Verhoeve: 'Flanders, and East Flanders in particular, have a lot of know-how when it comes to greenhouses, substrates, plant varieties and fertilization. We export that knowledge. In return, our companies can sell their products there. We ensure the right contacts through the provincial government.'
Professor Geert Haesaert (Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University) is a familiar face on these Vietnam missions. He collaborates with Vietnamese universities and talks about a sector in full development: 'Many Vietnamese farmers still grow vegetables in the open field, which leads to many field-related diseases. They often have to disinfect the soil and spray frequently. That is why they are now switching to substrate, a mix of peat moss with fertilisers and coconut that results in a better harvest and fewer diseases. We also advise the Vietnamese on natural alternatives to pesticides, such as parasitic wasps, predatory mites and ladybirds.'
Flanders, and East Flanders in particular, have a lot of know-how when it comes to greenhouses, substrates, plant varieties and fertilization. We export that knowledge.
Peter Sallaets is senior export manager of Greenyard Horticulture Belgium, which sells substrates in more than 60 countries. Since the Vietnam missions, he has been doing the same in Lam Dong. 'More and more Vietnamese horticultural companies focus on improvements in production and quality. We help them with our knowledge on substrates and cultivation. The provincial missions are a great help. In Asia, however, an excellent product is not always sufficient to conclude contracts with buyers. You also need to have a network. Thanks to the mission we can open the right doors in order to set the ball rolling. Recently, a Vietnamese client took over a company in China, which has started growing vegetables on our substrates.'
Hyplast, which produces plastic films for greenhouses, also found Vietnamese clients via the province's missions. Tom De Smedt (export manager Hyplast): 'We ship to countries all over the world. Each film is adapted to the local climate. In Vietnam, sunlight is direct and intense, which leads to plant stress and smaller harvests. Our films spread the sunlight more widely and evenly.'
The market is limited for the time being, but the potential is huge. De Smedt: "The vegetable sector will make a big leap forward there. We now try to get a foot in the door, which is going quite well. The province provides us with good contacts. During the first mission, I was given four contacts. All of them became clients in the end.'
Our missions are situated in the economic-scientific field. We support East Flemish companies with international ambitions by seeking the right contacts and accompanying them if necessary. In Asia, this apparently opens doors that would otherwise remain closed.
Provincial deputy Martine Verhoeve
Strawberries and cocoa
East Flanders’ international policy focuses on specific regions: the Chinese province of Hebei, as well as the Vietnamese region around Ho Chi Minh City and the province of Lam Dong. It is aimed at sectors in which East Flanders can provide meaningful know-how, such as horticulture, livestock farming, aquaculture, logistics and clean technology. In addition to the tomato project, projects on strawberries and cocoa were carried out in Vietnam. In the livestock sector, Ghent University and University College Ghent, together with East Flemish suppliers, were involved in a project to cross local cattle with the Belgian white-blue breed. These projects show how we can reap the benefits of long-term international cooperation.
Provincial deputy Martine Verhoeve: ‘Our missions are situated in the economic-scientific field. We support East Flemish companies with international ambitions by seeking the right contacts and accompanying them if necessary. In Asia, this apparently opens doors that would otherwise remain closed. We also facilitate the cooperation of our university and colleges with knowledge institutions in Vietnam and China. During a mission, we consciously bring together Belgian companies and researchers from a certain sector. This approach has a clear added value and is therefore one of the foundations of our international policy.'
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