Getting a picture of when nature isn’t a friend to farmers
Using photographs, farmers in central Viet Nam explain the challenges they have faced from extreme weather
Natural disasters brought about by extreme weather have caused numerous losses in the central coastal region’s steep terrain transected by short rivers. Exacerbated by climate change, extreme weather is increasing in frequency, intensity and unpredictability.
To reach a practical understanding of climate-change impacts and local people’s response, the researchers and partners involved in the Climate-smart, Tree-based, Co-investment in Adaptation and Mitigation in Asia (known as Smart Tree-Invest) project have been asking what are the consequences of a changing climate for people in Hương Lâm Commune in Hà Tĩnh province and Hương Hóa Commune in Quảng Bình province, Central Viet Nam? What are the local solutions to cope with the challenges? Can they be shared with other villages throughout Viet Nam?
As one of the ways to find answers to these questions, we used a method called Photovoice to help farmers become more aware of extreme weather patterns, the risks associated with natural disasters, the possible responses and the general impacts of climate change. Photovoice is designed for farmers to take the lead and tell their stories via photographs so that the research team—and other interested people—can more fully understand their needs and aspirations.
In Hương Lâm Commune, Ms Nguyễn Thị Côi’s farm land had been most affected by landslides and drought. She escorted the research team to her land—nearly half of which had been lost to landslides since 2010—and took photos of the area. Through this method, the team obtained firsthand experience of the losses local farmers had suffered owing to harsh conditions.
Ms Côi emphasized that, ‘We suffer from both landslides and drought owing to a lack of water in the dry season. Consequently, we manage to cultivate only one crop a year’.
The research team also understood that landslides would continue to wreak havoc if we failed to intervene appropriately because when asked about the causes of the landslides and the horrendous drought conditions, Ms Côi and other farmers weren’t able to answer. ‘Climate change’ was not in their minds. They just knew that abnormal weather was becoming more severe. Twin typhoons caused flash floods within one month of each other in 2010, sweeping away scores of houses and gardens. Also on Ms Côi’s plot we saw maize that had died from a lack of water.
‘If the weather allowed, I could manage to grow two crops of maize a year’, added Ms Côi. ‘In a year of severe drought, only one winter-spring crop is feasible; the other summer–autumn crop is a total loss’.
Ms Côi had no solution for these problems. She could only watch her land being swept away by floods and her crops wither and die from drought.
Ms Duong Thi Thanh of Hương Hóa Commune in Quảng Bình Province, faced the same problems. She had lost farm land to landslides and rock-and-stone infiltration for years. She and the other householders had no solutions for solving the problems.
‘My family had to rely on deforestation and other jobs—like working as porters at rock mines for construction materials—for a living’, said Ms Thanh. ‘My family cannot grow any crops on the land infiltrated by stones and rocks’.
Humanity has relied on Nature’s generosity for survival since time immemorial. However, sometimes Nature is cruel and dangerous. We followed Mr Lê Trung Tuyến of Hương Lâm Commune to witness both the generosity and cruelty of Nature.
Mr Tuyến explained that the Ngàn Sâu River’s silt has helped generations of local people along the river in their cultivation. The river has offered abundant products until the last few years. When the flood season came recently, local people were shocked to find that up to 8 m of land were submerged on both riverbanks and another 2 m of land were swept away. Consequently, they could grow only one crop per year and have struggled to cope with riverbank landslides and to discover how to cultivate in landslide-affected areas.
‘We have no idea which plants are suitable on this land’, Mr Tuyến said. Many people suggest using bamboo planks to prevent riverbank landslides but no one has tried owing to fear of failure’.
Through the Photovoice process, we came to know that local people in Hương Lâm and Hương Hóa suffered not only from storms, floods and landslides but also other extreme weather events, such as droughts and severe cold spells.
Given the many challenges from extreme weather, we were eager to know how local people coped with these problems, which were getting worse and worse. Had they found any solutions? To discover the answers, please read part 2: Women in Hương Lâm and Hương Hóa share experience about climate-change adaptation.