Highland orchards bear fruit

14 December 2017


  • ACIAR has been working on fruit projects on the highlands since 2009, supporting growers to achieve both economic and environmental benefits from their trees.
  • Some growers have been able to triple their prices by targeting the best markets for ripe or unripe fruit, or for different grades of fruit.
  • A new pear industry is set to capitalise on lessons learned from the plum business.

Some agriculture projects move more quickly than others. With cool-climate fruits, there is no fast-tracking – fruit trees can’t be hurried in their growth and fruiting cycles. “Even if everything happens perfectly, we’re looking at 10 years to get any real results from a tree fruit project”, says Dr Oleg Nicetic of the University of Queensland, who leads ACIAR’s temperate fruit project in the northwest highlands of Vietnam.

The highlands have the perfect climate for growing fruit such as plums, peaches and pears, and the fruit sell very well in the cities, as well as across the border in China before their own season begins. Fruit trees also play a valuable role in erosion control on the mountain slopes. Together, these benefits make the time investment worthwhile.

Tam Hoa plum trees have been grown in the highlands region for several decades and are an important source of income for smallholder farmers. Plum farmers in the Moc Chau region typically have about a hectare planted with about 250–300 trees; but many others have fewer trees grown alongside other crops such as maize. In 2016 there was a total area of 1,450 hectares of plums in Moc Chau region, producing about 16,700 tonnes.

Without much understanding of the markets for the plums, and generally poor orchard management, farmers have seen very variable returns for their efforts over the years. In the early 2000s, when overproduction caused prices to plunge, many farmers decided to cut their losses, and their trees. More recently, prices have picked up again with growing demand both within Vietnam and from China. If farmers can access these markets, the earning potential is high.

Selling Tam Hoa plums the traditional way in Bac Ha.


Being able to respond to markets depends on a reliable supply of good fruit, which in turn depends on good orchard management and production practices, and ideally a range of plum varieties. Yet despite more than 40 projects funded by various donors and aimed at improving production and introducing new varieties, there has been surprisingly little advance on these fronts. The latest ACIAR project carried out a study to try and understand why, and find solutions.

“We found various issues, but notably a lack of communication between stakeholders, and poor linkages with other local initiatives”, says Dr Nicetic. “We’re now helping to set up forums for stakeholders to get together and talk.” The project team is also helping develop strategic plans for development of the fruit industry. As knowledge about the industry grows, and the private sector becomes more involved, this should drive better production practices, nursery development, and availability of more varieties.



With plums, the researchers have had to work with an established industry and features that were not ideal, such as heavy reliance on one variety. The recent introduction of pears provides an opportunity to steer the new pear business, and capitalise on lessons from the plum industry. “We’d like to see a more controlled development, based on a range of suitable varieties that give an extended season so that farmers can compete in domestic and regional markets” says Dr Nicetic.

About 540 hectares are currently planted with grafted pear seedlings, with an additional 250 hectares planned by 2020. It will take some years for the trees to come into full production, but if the industry expansion is well managed, it will be worth the wait.



Mangoes represent a significant income opportunity for smallholder farmers in southern Vietnam. Improving mango productivity and competitiveness offers a significant opportunity to improve incomes and livelihoods of thousands of farming households.

However, the market is currently characterised by low value production and a weak and fragmented supply chain with limited links to processing and export. A new ACIAR project (‘Improving smallholder farmer incomes through strategic market development in mango supply chains in southern Vietnam’, AGB/2012/061) aims to address these issues through a collaborative whole-of-chain research and development approach.

Over the next three and a half years, a Vietnamese and international research team will work together to improve mango production practices and capabilities in the southern provinces of Dong Thap and Tien Giang, and mango trade links to both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

A standout feature of this project is its highly collaborative approach, bringing together experts in mango production, post-harvest, value chain analysis, economics, consumer behaviour and market development.

Premium fruit - Tam Hoa plums for sale in a supermarket in Hanoi.

The research team will identify and use strategic opportunities to increase the production capacity and market competitiveness of smallholder mango farmers in southern Vietnam. These opportunities could include off-season cultivation through the use of flowering manipulation techniques, improved postharvest handling and management, and access to processed fruit value chains.

Close cooperation with private sector fruit processors will be essential in extracting the maximum possible value from mango production by smallholder farmers. Importantly, our collaborative research project also aims to improve the capacity of Vietnamese partner institute researchers and foster greater public and private sector engagement, industry stakeholder linkages and knowledge sharing within the mango industry in southern Vietnam.

Smallholder mango farming in southern Vietnam is dominated by women, who typically have less than one hectare under mango cultivation. Our research and development efforts will strive to deliver real income and livelihood benefits to these famers and their families. In the first stage, it is expected that at least 270 mango farmers in the Dong Thap and Tien Giang provinces will participate in the project.

This is the first stage of a 10-year research and development program to improve mango production, supply and trade profitability from southern Vietnam, and we look forward to reporting results and impacts as this work progresses.