Farmers in Viet Nam committed to developing agroforestry systems
Despite challenges, farmers in the northwest of Viet Nam are persisting with agroforestry trials to claim the long-term benefits
Spending time taking care of their young agroforestry systems is one of the challenges faced by farmers in Son La, Dien Bien and Yen Bai provinces in Northwest Viet Nam, where they are working with researchers to develop modern tree-based systems on sloping land. The dominant practice of shifting cultivation and monocultural staple food crops, such as maize, rice and cassava, require less labour compared with establishing new agroforestry systems.
‘I have planted five species in my upland field—acacia, longan, coffee, soybean and fodder grass—so I need more time to take care of the various trees and crops and apply fertilisers at different times’, said Mr Luong Van Hoi, a farmer from Giang village, Quai Nua commune, Tuan Giao district, Dien Bien province.
Mr Nguyen Duy Bang of Tan Que village, Co Noi commune, Mai Son district, Son La province, stated that another problem was that cows and goats ate the newly planted fodder grass and young trees on his farm. So he needed to spend time building and maintaining fences.
Agroforestry techniques are a new cultivation method for most of the farmers at the study sites, who are using part of their land for trial plots in collaboration with the Agroforestry for Livelihoods of Smallholder farmers in Northwestern Viet Nam project, which is supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. The World Agroforestry Centre is the lead organization, working closely with six local organizations.
‘I have learned some new ways to improve agroforestry products, which we never knew before. Initially, I met with some difficulties but researchers and agricultural extension officers guided me in what to do’, said farmer Mr Lo Van La, also an ethnic Thai in Dien Bien province.
As there are different traditional practices locally, farmers are not able to avoid initial difficulties with the new methods, which are being tested to see if they can grow well in the sometimes harsh conditions of the Northwest and be economically attractive to farmers. The dominant agricultural practices have led to severe deforestation and soil degradation throughout the region and have trapped farmers in a poverty cycle.
‘There are some differences between traditional practices and our agroforestry techniques’, said Dr Hoang Thi Lua, a researcher with the project. ‘For example, farmers grow “son tra” trees naturally without pruning so they get low-quality fruit and poor productivity. We explained to them the benefits and showed them how to prune’.
The farmers and researchers alike are concerned about income stability in the first two years after planting. Income from monocultural annual crops is reduced because some of the land is converted to intercropping annuals with new fruit and timber trees. Only after the third year does income start to flow from tree crops, such as coffee; high-value macadamia nuts don’t provide returns until the fourth or fifth year.
‘I felt anxious in the beginning about adopting the system because my income from soybeans was a significant decrease compared to monocropping rice or maize two years ago’, said Mr Leo Van Cuong, a farmer in Co Noi commune, Son La province.
These challenges will be met to a large extent in the next year of the trials, when the trees will be more mature and start to generate greater income and require less maintenance than monocultural annual crops, providing the farmers with long-term rewards for their short-term difficulties.
To help address specific technical issues, the researchers will be providing more detailed training to the project farmers in the next stages of developing agroforestry systems.
Seeing and hearing of the success of the systems will encourage other farmers to adopt them and further the agroforestation of the region, which will ultimately improve a great number of smallholders’ livelihoods and help repair the environment.
This project is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry