There are 3 reasons inspired me to run a social enterprise in fishsauce industry.
Preserve our unique culture
Vietnamese food is greatly admired over the world. A unique part of the Vietnamese cuisine is Mắm, which are traditional fish sauce, shrimp paste, and more than 50 different kinds of fermented fish, prawn and vegetables. The fish sauce is regularly used in daily meals and it makes the Vietnamese cuisine authentic; we cannot cook tasty Vietnamese food without the fish sauce.
So Mắm is our culture and also our traditional food. Our ancestors were very creative to discover a very cheap, convenient and healthy way to keep our food safe. We have long history of culture making fish sauce, shrimp paste and other kind of fermentation food. Women living in coastal areas used to make it and they have lots of experience on how to make the best products.
Unfortunately, our generation has not preserved Mắm making culture well so many kinds of Mắm have been lost over the years. Currently, the elderly people have lots of experiences in making Mắm but their children normally don’t want to follow this career because of lots of reasons. The two main reasons are i) it’s not reputational as compared to working in offices and factories, and ii) they are not able to sell their homemade products due to competition from the industrial products. As a consequence, more than 80% of fish sauce in Vietnam now comes from industrial sources and more than 60% of the traditional kinds of Mắm have been lost.
If we keep going with this, our children and grandchildren would not know what old generations used to eat and they will eventually adapt to the industrial products instead. Further, the disappearance of the Mắm culture, which has evolved over a thousand years of accumulated experience in production and consumption, will not only be a loss for Vietnam alone but the world will lose a unique aspect of human civilization.
These were the circumstances that motivated me to do something to preserve our unique culture. After completing my Masters from Australia, many of my peers suggested me to start a non-profit to address these issues. However I was sure that the short-term “project interventions” will not address the problem fundamentally. It required someone to address the issues head-on by demonstrating how this unique culture can be saved. I decided to take on that role and the Bamboo Boat Fish Sauce Company was born in 2013, with a mission to bring the traditional fish sauce back to our dining tables.
While aiming at cultural preservation, the social enterprise provides access to traditional Mắm, creates job opportunity for women and makes the green value chain for the local economy. The enterprise re-invests its profit into further expansion of the business and its social mission. A part of the profit also goes towards supporting higher education of local youths.
Women empowerment: Making Mắm requires lots of time, care, patience and persistence and thus women are normally involve in this work. We believe that when women have regular incomes, they are more likely to invest in the education for their children and thus would have better future for Vietnam. Planting vegetable and making Mắm would provide more job opportunities for women living in rural areas. We integrate climate change adaptation to these activities since the communities we work with are located in the central of Vietnam, where the natural disasters (floods and storms) are very common. Mắm is a very good alternative food before, during and after disasters since it’s cheap, easy to make at home and is a good source of protein.
Creating multiple form of weath: We believe that Vietnam can have green growth by developing green agricultural products while preserving our unique culture. Through BamBoo Boat, we aim to build up green supply chain for Quang Tri province since it has strong historical landscapes, beautiful and wild seashore. Preserve and develop Mắm would add value on that chain which makes Quang Tri having its own advantage.
Promoting for sustainability: growing local – eating local: Recentresearch indicates that eating local products would help us to be healthy and disease resistant. Mắm is truly local; we get familiar with it since a child. Mắm provides digestible protein and acid amino that human cannot synthesize and needs to be provided from food. Also, Mắm supplies natural micro organisms which are good for digestion and various vitamins and mineral which is good for our body. Mắm makes our Vietnamese cuisine truly unique.
“We believe that sustainability can be achieved when traditional values are respected and preserved and when people live healthy lives in a harmonious relationship with the environment, with love and care for others. We tirelessly work to incorporate those value in our products and we say NO to harmful preservatives and artificial colouring”
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