After three years of implementation, the OCOP (One Commune-One Product) programme has become a key policy being extensively deployed in localities.
The programme has awakened local comparative advantages, especially local cultural values to create multi-valued products. However, in the past two years, the pandemic has disrupted the production and consumption of OCOP products which quickened the need to put these products on e-commerce platforms to expand distribution channels, thereby promoting structural transformation and improving the value of products for farmers.
Nguyễn Minh Tiến, director and chief of the Central Coordination Office for New Rural Development under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, talks about the digitalisation in OCOP development on the Economic Focus programme of Vietnam News Agency Television.
Since when was digital transformation in the OCOP programme noticed and implemented?
In 2019, during a business trip to Sơn La Province, we met an OCOP participant who brought a very thick stack of documents to show us the proof of OCOP product evaluation. They said for each product applying for classification, the expense for photocopying alone reached VNĐ10 million (US$435), so if registering for 3-level assessments (from district to province to central levels), the cost could double or triple. So, we found that if we continue to evaluate products based on such paper documents, it is not only very expensive for the participants but also a big waste of paper. Then we determined the first step should be the application of IT and digital transformation in product evaluation and rating. This is convenient for both participants and management bodies as we can track their participation in the programme while minimising the paperwork.
In 2020, as the pandemic disrupted many agricultural product chains, including OCOP products, we realised the necessity for digital transformation, focusing on e-commerce to reach consumers in the context that traditional sales were impossible due to social distancing measures to combat the pandemic.
Participants in the OCOP programme are mostly small production facilities, so they cannot either organise trade promotion campaigns formally like large enterprises or connect with supermarket chains. Through e-commerce platforms, they can connect with consumers.
What are the difficulties when deploying this programme?
The first difficulty is the limited capability of participants in both skills and knowledge about digitalisation, so we have to conduct training workshops.
The second is poor technical infrastructure. Many sellers lacked even smartphones and computers. Internet connection was poor, especially for those in remote areas, which caused loss of sound and images during the livestreaming, making the products not attractive to viewers.
This shows that in order to support OCOP participants to catch up with the digitalisation trend, especially e-commerce, there must be a mechanism and policy. Although digital transformation or e-commerce is an inevitable trend and most common during the COVID-19 time, access to IT infrastructure is still a current bottleneck.
What results has the digitalisation process achieved so far?
In the early stage, despite limitations in capacity and equipment, step by step OCOP participants were able to catch up and connect online so sales on e-commerce increased very quickly. Currently, about 3,000 out of total 5,415 OCOP products have been sold on popular e-commerce platforms. Especially after we held training courses on online sales with provinces, we were surprised that many participants were completely confident in front of the camera like broadcast presenters. They introduced the product story, described the production process and talked about the intangible value of the product associated with each locality professionally, which attracted customers to the products.
In addition, we have cooperated with a team from the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) to support OCOP participants to improve their knowledge and skills. Many of them are from remote areas with a low starting point, but over time it has been proved that implementing digital transformation in OCOP development is completely feasible. The most important thing is that State agencies need to help support them.
Digital transformation in the production and promotion of OCOP products is considered very urgent amid the pandemic, but for sustainable development, what specific orientation should localities focus on?
The essence of OCOP products is still based on promoting potential values and advantages of regions associated with local cultural values, both intangible and tangible. Therefore, in the OCOP 2021-25 programme, we have completed the dossier and soon will submit it to the Prime Minister for approval and implementation.
One of the key solutions is the digital transformation which will be applied in all stages, not only at the final step of e-commerce but from the very beginning stage – the raw material area. We must have measures to support the granting codes for planting areas, and using electronic diaries to ensure that the use of chemicals and fertilisers complies with established procedures. Ensuring raw material sources will help ensure the quality of products, especially to meet food safety and hygiene requirements.
In addition, we aim to monitor the entire pre-processing and quality control process online before the products reach e-commerce platforms. We also expect to have interaction and feedback from consumers to manufacturers so that we can adjust and collect information. The involvement of the state management agencies is also needed to solve the product quality issue, especially for 5-star products (national level).
Another issue is that due to the social distancing measures, it is very difficult to organise fairs and exhibitions on-site, so we are considering a pilot organisation of virtual fairs based on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology. We can take viewers on a tour of all the OCOP products by theme so that if the viewer is interested in any product, VR and AR technology will enable viewers to hear and see the production process and can interact directly with the producers.
We hope that promoting digital transformation will be implemented methodically in the next three years, not only at some stages but the whole process, from that farmers and sellers can interact with consumers in a sustainable way while ensuring the anti-pandemic regulations.
How can we attract private investment in developing infrastructure in the localities besides State capital?
In the OCOP 2021-25 programme and new rural development programme, we will propose to apply digital transformation in new rural areas to support the OCOP programme. To ensure success, the development of technical infrastructure is very important and this is also the point where MIC has come up with mechanisms and policies to facilitate private businesses.
First of all, we must build a mechanism for businesses to expand coverage so that they can provide services such as transmission lines, broadband or 4G, 5G. Besides, service is also very important, so we need to offer incentives for businesses to support OCOP participants with lower service fees, thus creating conditions to reduce costs and burdens for stakeholders. With small business facilities, any increase in cost also affects their financial capacity. — VNS