CENDI was established in 2015 to continue the work of previous LISO (Livelihood Sovereignty) organisations since the 1990s as the needs and challenges of indigenous minority communities in the Mekong region changed.
Over the years 1995–2015, TEW Toward Ethnic Women), CHESH (Center for Human Ecology Studies of the Highlads), CIRD (Center for Indigenous Knowledge Research and development), CODE (Consultancy on Development Institute) and SPERI (Social Policy Ecology Research Institute) worked with indigenous ethnic minority communities in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand through their grass-roots Key Farmer Network named Mekong Community Networking for Ecological Trading (MECO-ECOTRA 1995-2015). Communities of different ethnic identity and location selected their own Key Farmers who were highly respected and knowledgeable people who exchanged the own experiences, challenges and solutions by networking together. Step-by-step, the Key Farmer Network becomes a key practical pillar of community development work in the Mekong region for overcoming daily challenges and meeting the daily needs of indigenous communities.
In 2013, the LISO (Livelihood Sovereignty Alliance) was formed to strengthen joint collaboration between TEW, CHESH, CIRD, CODE, SPERI and CENDI in achieving for indigenous peoples the five fundamental rights of Livelihood Sovereignty: 1) the right to land; 2) the right to worship land spirits; 3) the right to apply their own wisdom, knowledge and customs in governing their own up-land farming ways; 4) the right to maintain their local seed which have surviving for hundreds of years in their own territory; and 5) the right to co-govern their traditional territories with their neighbours.
In 2015, CENDI Community Entrepreneur Development Institute) was formed to co-work with key farmers to strengthen the skills and capacities of their communities to address the challenges presented by the free market economic system. There are now young eco-farmers in Northern Vietnam, Central Vietnam, the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Northern Laos and Northern Thailand networking among each other to create Community Enterprises. CENDI sees it as its mission to facilitate, encourage and support these young farmers so that in the coming years, from these young seeds, Community Enterprises run by Community Entrepreneurs will be developed as a new model of community economy based on the community wisdom and customs in ecological farming and biodiversity preservation. For this new thematic, we have adopted the name Agroecology to describe the production and post-harvest processing of ecological products – native rice, textiles, medicinal herbs, etc. – for socially, culturally, economically and ethically aware customers in local and regional niche markets. These ecological products, priced to include the added value of their cultural and ecological characteristics, will then become the main source of income for their communities, and an alternative to engagement with the socially and culturally corrosive, ecologically damaging, and externally controlled market economy.