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Vuon – Ao – Chuong – The Traditional Vietnamese Farm

by Nguyen Van Man

VAC is an acronym formed from the three Vietnamese words Vuon, garden or orchard, Ao, fish pond, and Chuong, pigsty or poultry shed. It refers to a form of domestic agriculture in which food gardening, fish rearing and animal husbandry are wholly integrated, and stems from farming methods developed in the Red River delta of Vietnam.

The VAC system is a highly intensive method of small scale farming that makes optimal use of land, water and solar energy, achieving high economic efficiency for low capital investment. Plants are used for food, fibre, and fuel, and always products are passed into the production cycle. Developed from age old production agricultural practices, VAC farming now takes place in many regions of Vietnam, with models varying according to the terrain and the climate.

Background & Prototype

In the fertile plains of the Red River delta, a major rice growing area, farmers have traditionally had gardens around their houses for growing produce for their domestic needs. Such gardens form the model for VAC farming.

Initially a hole is dug in the ground. The soil from the hole is used for the foundations on which the house and the animal sheds are built, and to build up banks around the garden beds. (The buildings and the gardens need to be protected from rising water, as the delta floods each summer.) The hole itself becomes a pond, as a result of rainfall and the high water table, and a well is dug for fresh water for the household. Thus an area is created in which animal husbandry, gardening and fish rearing can all take place in an interrelated fashion adjacent to the house.

Plants are grown in the garden in a system of tiered cultivation, in which various species are intercropped and overlapped to make full use of solar energy and soil nutrients. Fruit trees are interspersed with vegetable and legume crops that will grow in the shade. Other legumes are grown around the perimeter of the garden, and timber trees and rattans are planted to form green fences.

A variety of fish is reared in the pond, so that food resources are fully used at different water depths. (For example, tench feed at the top, roach in the middle and carp and tilapia at the bottom.) Taro is planted around the pond and on part of its surface. Gourds are grown on trellises just above the water. Sweet potato is cultivated as pig feed.

The pig sty and the poultry shed are situated close to the pond. Pig manure is used for fish food, and various garden products are used to feed the livestock and fish. During the dry season the pond provides nutrient-rich water and sludge to irrigate and fertilise the garden. Surplus fish are fed to the pigs, or sold.

The whole VAC system is operated by the farmer’s family. They consume meat, eggs, fish, fruit and vegetables and in turn they contribute waste products to the system.

Recent History

The late president Ho Chi Minh had a great liking for gardening and fish rearing. In 1979, on the tenth anniversary of his testament to the country, the ministry of agriculture, the ministry of fisheries and the Ho Chi Minh museum launched two movements: “Uncle Ho’s Orchard” and “Uncle Ho’s Fish Pond”. These were not true VAC models, but they marked the beginning of the reintroduction of small scale intensive farming as an alternative to the socialist cooperative large scale farms.

As a result of these initiatives many collective VAC gardens have been established by cooperatives, businesses, kindergartens, schools, churches and pagodas. They are often established around centres for orphans, the aged and the disabled, where people provide free labour and are in turn provided with food that they have helped to grow. They can then either share the produce with family members, or sell it.

VAC Results

VAC practice leads to increased income and improved standards of living. Research has shown that in some communes in the Red River delta where VAC farming is being practiced, VAC income constitutes 70-90 percent of farmers’ incomes, and that their annual income through VAC farming is from 3-5 times higher (and sometimes as much as ten times higher) than that derived in the same area from growing two rice crops per year.

With VAC practice, dependency on rice is reduced as other dietary items constitute a greater portion of food consumed. This assists in reducing malnutrition.

Environmental Impact and By-Products

VAC leads to the creation of pleasant, peaceful landscapes with little or no agricultural pollution. No artificial chemicals are used and tree planting is encouraged. Employment is provided for people of all ages because hard manual labour is not required. Vietnamese women commonly work on the roads, in lime kilns and in distant rice fields. VAC offers them the opportunity to work in a healthy environment close to home, enabling them to care for their children rather than leave them in the care of others.

VAC activities also result in a variety of by-products. Food can be salted, dried and preserved, and crafts such as weaving, spinning and basket-making contribute significantly to family income and quality of life.

VAC Models for Coastal, Delta and Mountainous Regions

The original VAC model as practiced in the Red River delta has been modified to suit Vietnams three principle climatic regions, and further modifications are being made to suit particular conditions, such as in cyclone-susceptible coastal areas. The three main VAC models are outlined below.

Coastal Regions

The typical VAC garden-farm in a coastal area is from 2000-5000 square metres. It is bordered by a row of Casuarina equisetifolia which acts as a windbreak, hinders drifting sand and filters salt. Other timber trees and rattans are densely planted on mounds built up around the garden as protection. Within the garden a variety of fruit trees is grown, such as bananas, mulberries, figs, papaya and citrus, plus tuber crops such as sweet potato, arrowroot and jicama. Fish and prawns are raised in brackish ponds and canals. The most common forms of livestock raised are buffalo, cattle, pigs and poultry, especially ducks.

The Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta has saline, alluvial soils, and a wet and semi-dry season. People dig canals around their gardens to achieve better drainage and to wash salt from the soil. The fruit trees grown here, such as coconut palms, are selected according to their suitability to the available water (either brackish or fresh), and to the type of soil. On the flat land close to the coast coconut palms are intercropped with the bananas, guavas, citrus, pineapple and rambutan. A little further inland citrus species dominate, and are intercropped with coffee, cocoa and pepper plants. Fish and prawns are reared in the canals, with pig sties and poultry sheds situated by the canals. Bee hives are kept beneath the tree canopy.

Foothills & Mountains

Timber trees are grown on the steeper slopes, with perennial shrubs such as coffee and tea planted lower down. Peanuts (ground nuts), pulse legumes, medicinal herbs and tuber crops are planted beneath shade trees such as cassias. A series of small ditches and contour banks are built along the slopes to prevent soil erosion. Pineapples are grown along the banks. The house is built near the bottom of the hill, surrounded by bananas, orange trees and medicinal herbs. In front is the vegetable garden. The fish pond is at the foot of the hill with the animal sheds nearby. If there is a stream, fish are often raised in cages in the running water.


Since 1985 the Vietnamese government has been encouraging the development of family sized economic units. In 1986 the association of Vietnamese gardeners, VACVINA, was founded, and currently it has branches in 33 of Vietnam’s 44 provinces. This non-governmental organisation has the following objectives:

  1. to promote VAC development;
  2. to provide education, support and technology transfer to enable farmers to practice VAC; and
  3. to exchange information with international organisations.

VACVINA, with its emphasis on teaching nutrition and farm/garden design, shows how old and new food systems can be combined in ways that are highly productive and environmentally sound.



  1. I would say this is not Vietnamese technology…the Chinese are doing it also ( Vietnamese are actually descendant of Chinese to start with…) and the Siam were doing it also ( today they are the Khmer, the Thai , the Laos and the Birman ).
    Probably the biggest earth work …canals, retention bassins etc was done by the Siam Empire way back and its capital was Angkor…in the center of it. 100’s x sq km.
    Some of it is still functional today…

    If you look at a general map of Cambodia, you will see a huge lake in the centre…the Tonle Sap… with one river coming out of it of the same name actually. That river joins the Mekong at Phnom-Penh…present day capital of Cambodia.

    the Monsoons on the Himalayas feed the Mekong whose water level rises… higher than the Tonle Sap…both river and lake…the water course reverse and the lake expand 50 folds during monsoon season… just when fish are reproducing… highest concentration of fish worldwide when the monsoon stops and the only exit from the lake…one Tonle Sap river, the rest of the year.
    They do eat a lot of hog over there…chicken also actually.

    The water retention is being manage so as to produce riz, and the use of fish in rice culture has to be mentioned…with its obvious agricultural implications fungus control and other pests, as well as fertilizer…although this latest is only second to sedimentary deposit by the Mekong.

    Cambodia has always been the rice basket of SE Asia… and the envy of its neighbour’s…an 800years war with Viet Nam in its history tells you the importance of that basket, and the latest invasion of Cambodia by Viet Nam…Pol Pot and the Red Khmere, although being a good excuse was not the only reason… the Chinese understood it very well and sent the Army marching south into Viet Nam…20 km south of the border, in matter of hours, and stopped there … out of Cambodia or else. Viet Nam complied.

    There is so much things unknown about SE Asia by the rest of the world… Ankhor Watt, Ankhor Thom are just 2 temples out of so many, how many I do not know…x100’s for certain, maybe 2000 of them… it is huge by any standard…the water retention reseau… on a grand scale too and that include the Tonle Sap which can be seen from space in the dry season.

    Yours trully

  2. I wonder about the parasites that would normally be present in great quantities in the pig manure rendering it a truly dangerous “food”, if you could call it that…also about the “farming” of fish. Are the fish being fed grains or is this not like western fish farming. Grain fed fish are not producing the same nutritional profile as nature produced fish. Otherwise, this seems like a great idea. Could you speak to my concerns?



  3. Great stuff.

    Would be interested if anyone has applied this in Cambodia (where I work).

    Is VAC translatable to here?

    In asking Cambodian farmers why they don’t breed fish (many have ponds), they say it’s because the fish escape when the pond floods every Rainy Season. Any solutions to that one?

  4. “I would say this is not Vietnamese technology…the Chinese are doing it also ( Vietnamese are actually descendant of Chinese to start with…)….”

    Comment by lamare — October 24, 2008 @ 9:06 pm

    How are you sure about this? ( Vietnamese are actually descendant of Chinese to start with…)

  5. Siam is not Khmer. Historically, it was Khmer empire during Angkor time, not Siam. I think you are reading a very confusing history.

  6. It is not a matter of who is who, but rather is the system working for sustainability. That is most important of it. If it works fine, we are thinking of Adopting ans putting in to use fine

  7. Fascinating story. Modification of the basic model is also very interesting, and ya gotta say, is consistent with the heart of permaculture. Equally interesting story is the one Lamare told. I also wonder if the story is very accurate, but just considering the broad outline, without being overly concerned with details of who … very interesting, and worth investigating more closely. I live in Thailand, where a farming model is attributed to the recently deceased king. It’s similar to VAC in that a variety of foods are raised and grown, and where self-sufficiency is emphasized over commercial production.

  8. i am travelling to vietnam next week and i will like to visit permaculture project in your country i am looking also for create some bamboo object in a permaculture project with ethics and repect of envirnment and peolpe i am study permaculture in france and internationally also
    i will be arriving at ho chi minh first and leaving the country from hanoi i am here for 3 weeks
    warm regards

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