Southeast Asia through the eyes of Canadian agriculturalists

  • The Canadian ag leaders group savored fried crickets for the first time. They're kind of like chicken wings, said the group.
In February 2017, I embarked on an international agricultural study tour of Vietnam and Thailand with classmates of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP). In a region where farmland is measured in square feet, fried crickets are a delicacy and roadside markets are more common than supermarkets, we experienced many firsts, and our eyes were opened to the differences in agriculture between Canada and Southeast Asia.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, ironically on the inaugural Canada’s Agriculture Day, and so we shared our #AgMoreThanEver pride from the other side of the world.
Canada's Agriculture Day AALP class pic.jpg 
We had the opportunity to meet with two U.S. agriculture leadership programs, LEAD New York and Rural Leadership North Dakota, as well as leaders from both of our countries who are working in Vietnam and representatives from the Vietnam Farmers Union and VACVINA, the association of Vietnam gardeners. 
Over the next few days, we toured around rural areas, visiting a rubber tree plantation, an agriculture research park where they were growing cabbage, melons and peppers, an earthworm farm and a dairy.  
Agriculture research park.jpg 
In the Da Lat region, we visited farms that found niche markets for their value-added products. The first was a cricket farm that sells its crickets to local restaurants, where they deep-fry them and serve them with different seasonings and dipping sauce, kind of like chicken wings in North America. They even sell a bagged snack product called “Bug Snacks,” but I think that I’ll take potato chips over those!
 Cricket farm.jpgFried crickets.jpg
We also visited a coffee farm with its own secret recipe: It feeds coffee fruit to weasels and harvests the coffee bean from the dung. After soaking for a week, it dries and roasts the beans. Many in our group tried the weasel coffee and were pleasantly surprised that it tasted quite good, but I don’t think that Starbucks will be offering it on their North America menu anytime soon!
Weasel coffee.jpg
We visited a North American-style supermarket in Vietnam, and we were surprised to see that it did not have many customers. Our guide told us that people prefer to shop at their local outdoor, fresh markets. These markets were very different from the farmers markets that we’re used to, as the produce and meat were not packaged or refrigerated, but this was the norm that we saw at many markets throughout Vietnam and Thailand. 
Farmers market 1.jpg
We traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam. There we had the opportunity to see the Canadian Embassy and meet with Nicolas Drouin, the first development secretary, and Tran Tuan Anh, trade commissioner. Nicolas and Tran spoke to our group about the current development and trade missions Canada is engaging in in Vietnam. They outlined the importance of Vietnam, the fastest-growing economy in Asia, as a trading partner. Vietnam values Canadian-quality imported products such as seafood, wheat, beef and soybeans.
Canadian Embassy (2).JPG
As we traveled through the countryside, we saw many rice paddies and vegetable fields, including lettuce and cabbage. We learned that in northern Vietnam, farmers can plant two crops of rice in one year, and in the south, they plant three. 
Rice paddies.jpg
After an eye-opening experience traveling through Vietnam, we flew to Thailand to finish our study tour. We visited the Baan Susan Chamchoen Farm, owned by Mr. Somsak, outside of Bangkok. He toured us through his mixed fruit farm, which he built for agri-tourism, with lodging, a restaurant and a store to purchase many value-added products, including syrups and jams. He grows bananas, coconuts and mangos and raises ducks, chickens and goats. We thanked Mr. Somsak for his hospitality with an Ag More Than Ever t-shirt and a Canadian flag. 
After two weeks, two countries and countless miles traveled by plane, bus and foot, we returned home with a greater perspective and understanding of agriculture and leadership in another corner of the world. I’m thankful and proud to be Canadian, but also to be part of this incredible global agriculture industry.
Jenn Norrie is the on-farm communications manager for Alltech, based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter @jennorrie. You can also view posts from the AALP International Study Tour with the hashtag #AALP16.