The Japanese woman, who has been living in Vietnam for 20 years, began her organic mission in the north. She helped farmers in Hoa Binh, Son La and Hai Phong to grow vegetables without pesticides, then connected them with restaurants in Hanoi via workshops.
In 2012, once northern farmers recognised the prosperity the cultivation practices could bring, Mayu and her project moved to Ben Tre province in the south.
The organisation set up a “cow and duck bank” in Binh Dai district, where local farmers could borrow cows and ducks for one year and return the loans with the animals’ offspring.
More than 600 farmers have to date become customers of the bank and many households have escaped from poverty.
In 2015, the project brought organic vegetable cultivation to Ba Tri, another district in Ben Tre.
At first, Mayu came with personnel from the local administration to encourage people to take part in her project, then she visited households to show them how to produce manure and pick insects by hand.
She has frequently checked the progress of participants’ projects, listened to their difficulties, and helped them seek buyers.
It was hard to get locals to adhere to organic principles as they have been used to planting with inorganic fertilisers and pesticides for years, Mayu said.
Mai Van Tron, a resident in Ba Tri town, said when the Japanese woman first visited his farm, he was suspicious, but her organic farming classes changed his mind.
Mayu’s passion and dedication also helped convince him to shift to the new method.
Currently, Tron’s 500-m2 plantation garden earns about VND5 million (some US$220) per month.
The number of local families taking part in the “Seed to Table” project like Tron has so far amounted to 200.
Mayu noted 60% of Vietnam’s population are farmers, most of them run small-scale farms and rely on natural resources, adding that is why environmental protection and sustainable farming are important.
People often do not realise Mayu is Japanese, as she speaks fluent Vietnamese and dresses like a local. Many farmers call her by an informal Vietnamese name Chi May (sister May).