Women scientists honoured

To celebrate international women’s day, Viet Nam is honouring a select group of women who helped improve the quality of life in the country, Nguyen Thanh Ha reports.
Farmers in the southern provinces of Ben Tre and Ba Ria- Vung Tau and other provinces in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta call Professor Doctor Pham Thi Thuy the scientist of the farmers.
She earned this name because she has helped local farmers wipe out many epidemics including locusts, grasshoppers, beetles, and brown planthoppers.
Nguyen Van Hai, an owner of a coconut orchard that is home to thousands of trees said, hundreds of his trees died after a beetle epidemic occurred in Ben Tre in 2000. Hai lost billions of dong that year and might have lost more if Dr Thuy had not come to the province’s rescue to help farmers use bio-pesticides. Dr Thuy gave the farmers Beauveria bassiana (Boverit) and Metarhizium anisopliae fungi (Mat) in order to combat the beetles.
“She improved our lives by showing us how to use these biopesticides to combat the beetles in order to protect our coconuts. Before she came, many farmers here had to cut down their trees and faced great losses because they had no effective bio-pesticide to deal with the beetle epidemics, which often occurred year round in Ben Tre and in other Cuu Long Delta provinces,” Hai said.
He added that since farmers in the province started using Dr Thuy’s bio- pesticides, many households have become wealthier because now they are able to grow high-quality coconuts that are sold in both domestic and overseas markets.
Ben Tre’ s Department of Natural Resources and Environment director, Truong Duy Hai, said that Dr Thuy’s bio-pesticide did not have any adverse affects on farmers’ health and the eco- environment.
Dr Thuy has been working in the Biological Centre at the Plant Protection Research Institute of Viet Nam. She was awarded the prestigious Sofia Kovalevskaia Award on Saturday in Ha Noi.
Thuy told Viet Nam News that she has a passion for researching bio-pesticides and enjoys helping farmers protect their trees and crops.
“I have invested almost 33 years in researching and producing the bio-pesticides Boverit and Mat fungi. My colleagues and I are very happy, because our bio-pesticides have been widely used by farmers in almost all of the provinces and cities in the country.” she said.
While getting her doctorate in Bulgaria in the 1990s, Thuy learned about non-poisonous pesticides from her Bugarian counterparts, which could be used in her home country.
Nearly 70 per cent of Viet Nam’s population work as farmers, but few farmers have been trained to use non-poisonous pesticides to protect their trees and crops, said Thuy therefore, these farmers are often susceptible to losing a large amount of their crops to beetles, brown planthoppers, locusts and many other harmful insects.
“Bio-pesticides have been used widely in most provinces and cities across the country since 1995. Billions of dong have been saved by farmers and most importantly our environment has been protected.
“Crops that are protected with Boverit and Mat fungi will increase their productivity by VND 2-3 million per hectare,” said Thuy.
She travels to the countryside training farmers on how to use these bio-pesticides. Thousands of female farmers in the remote areas of Ha Giang, Ha Tinh and Nghe An provinces were invited to join training courses that were in the field by Dr Thuy.
Now the farmers know how to produce high-quality organic products, which go for higher prices in the market.
Dr Thuy claims that these two bio-pesticides have been granted a copyright by the Ministry of Science and Technology, which allow her to produce and use them widely in Viet Nam.
She was also awarded the second and third prizes by the prestigious Viet Nam Fund for Technology and Creativity for her effective application of these two bio-pesticides.
“Thousands of our pine trees have been rescued because of Dr Thuy’s bio-pesticides,” said Cam Ngoc Chinh, deputy chairman of the Son La People’s Committee. He added that since using these bio-pesticides, almost all epidemics caused by harmful insects have been effectively controlled.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has awarded Dr Thuy a certificate of merit for her outstanding contributions to the country.
“This has protected the health of the farmers, improved livestock breeding and reduced environmental pollution,” said the Prime Minister at a recent award ceremony honouring outstanding female scientists.
Apart from producing these non-poisonous pesticides, Dr Thuy has also trained many young scientists through the many books and text books she has written for students at the University of Technology, the Ha Noi Open University, and universities of Phuong Dong and Tay Nguyen.
As head of Viet Nam’s Institute for Agricultural Science’s club for female scientists, Dr Thuy has encouraged her young fellow counterparts to study hard by travelling to remote and isolated areas to understand what farmers need.
“I always volunteered to travel to disadvantaged areas in Ha Giang, Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Thai Nguyen to train poor female farmers and encourage them to cultivate their crops with advanced technology.
“Many household have been given high-quality green bean and soy bean seeds and non-poisonous pesticides by me to overcome their poverty,” said Thuy.
She told Viet Nam News that she plans to build a plant to produce sufficient non-poisonous pesticides for all farmers nationwide in an effort to ease food poisoning, which is a regular concern for Vietnamese consumers.
Apart from Dr Thuy, two other female scientists, Dr Nguyen Thi Tuoi of the National University in HCM City and Le Thi Thuy of the Viet Nam Institute for Livestock Breeding, also received Kovalevskaia awards this week.
During her 31 years of work, Tuoi has invested almost all of her time in researching how to teach linguistics with computers.
“I trained my students on how to translate English into Vietnamese by using computer software. We created a programme to analyse vocabulary and syntax when teaching natural linguistics,” said Tuoi.
Dr Tuoi is one of the first volunteers to teach linguistics using computers in Viet Nam.
“My project aims to make computers understand human speech during the treatment process, with emphasis on natural linguistics and Vietnamese,” said Tuoi.
Now a number of Tuoi’s methods have been widely applied in things like the Vietnamese spelling check programme and database.
Dr Tuoi has been awarded several certificates of merit by the Prime Minister and by relevant ministries.
Dr Le Thi Thuy is an agricultural scientist who has invested almost all of her 30 years of work into researching livestock which has helped eliminate poverty and hunger.
“Thuy’s research has contributed to the country’s livestock breeding sector,” said deputy director of the Viet Nam Institute for Livestock Breeding, Vu Chi Cuong.
He said Dr Thuy’s project has significantly reduced production costs because the process of carefully selecting livestock allows for higher productivity.
Thuy was also active in training young personnel, who have the ability to integrate into the world economy. She teaches the young scientists how to transfer advanced technology into the sector and how to create stable jobs for farmers.
“In addition, Dr Thuy also knows how to tap international funds in order to develop the sector and develop the economy for ethnic groups in remote and isolated areas,” Cuong said.
Like her fellow scientists, Thuy has received many honours, which include certificates of merit from the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour.
Thuy was also awarded the Kovalevskaia Prize 2010.

(Women of Vietnam Review, No 1. 2010)