Bay Area non-profit helping Vietnam farmers get crop to market

Thursday, May 26, 2016
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A Bay Area non-profit called Roots of Peace is working successfully with poor farmers in Vietnam to get their valuable spice crop to market.

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- A Bay Area non-profit is working successfully with poor farmers in Vietnam to get their valuable spice crop to market.

Some of that highly prized Vietnamese pepper is now being sold right here in California and it could be on your table any day.

It may look like any other pallet of spice being unloaded and headed for market. But the story behind this shipment involves America and Vietnam, two countries that are now active partners in economic trade after a bitter war more than 40 years ago.

A non-profit called Roots of Peace in Marin County is in the middle of this particular business deal.

Their first ever 29,000 pound shipment arrived in the Bay Area last Fall, just four years after Roots of Peace experts began teaching Vietnamese farmers how to grow healthy pepper crops.

The charity has commitments from several spice companies and is looking for investors.

Pepper crops bring in 10 times more money than other crops. So far, 2,000 farmers are enrolled in the Roots of Peace programs and more want to join.

"Farmers have reported to us that they doubled their income," Roots of Peace head agricultural specialist Nguyen Binh, M.D., said. "They can pay for the children for school and health care and some farmers can buy a motorbike, even save some money to buy a big house, so that's very good."

The highly prized pepper is grown in a former battle zone called Quang Tri province, which is contaminated with landmines.

Roots of Peace joined with the U.S. Department of State, the Vietnamese government, and the Mines Advisory Group, known as MAG in a long term plan to demine and replant.

"We have an incredible team on the ground in Quang Tri, many of the people were born here during the war, and now they're working to remove these seeds of hatred, and to plant the Roots of Peace," Roots of Peace Heidi Kuhn said.

"The farmers bring their hard work and their diligence. We brought our expertise in clearance and Roots of Peace brought this incredible dedication to taking that land and turning it into something that gives a better life to the people," U.S. Embassy Hanoi, Vietnam Susan Sutton said.

"It is the dream of our people, our government to build a strong, prosperous Vietnam," Vice Chairman of Foreign Non-Governmental Organization Affairs Don Tuan Phong said.

Phong, a key government leader, wants to see the Roots of Peace program expand rapidly in five years. "The work has been seen as very effective," he said.

"I come from the farming area of the Mekong Delta. Many people, they died, children, animals died by the landmines, now I know you do something for us, it's amazing, thank you for doing that," Saigon tour guide Lenguyen Tin said.

One of the top travel companies in Vietnam, Buffalo Tours, wants to partner with Roots of Peace, saying they share common values. The company donated a tour along the Mekong Delta for potential donors.

"It's actually transformational, it transforms people's lives and we are so happy to be a part of it," Regional Operations Manager of Buffalo Tours Tuong Trang said.

Several California philanthropists are already on board helping Roots of Peace. Marin County donors traveled to Vietnam to see the work being done.

"Now I can come back from this trip with Heidi and create a menu that I will dedicate to Roots of Peace," The District owner and chef Hannah An said.

An flew from Beverly Hills to Vietnam to see the Roots of Peace global spice program and is ready to buy.

"People walk in and they get to taste authentic cuisine and also they get to learn about the pepper from this area," An said.

Pick one place where you can make a difference and make it and that's what Roots of Peace has done here.

The goal is to reach 100,000 Vietnamese farmers. Roots of Peace is creating an innovative business model for investors to have a larger social impact for the rural farmers.

And even more prized pepper will be able to get to America faster, if Roots of Peace can raise the money to buy a mechanical processor and build a workshop for it.

Click here for more stories by Cheryl Jennings about Roots of Peace and the nonprofit's work around the world.