Why are Vietnamese farmers not planting trees amid annual crops?
Size of landholding, flooding, and a shortage of knowledge, seedlings and markets are holding back farmers in Viet Nam from planting trees amongst their other crops. Researchers have found ways of overcoming these obstacles.
By Rachmat Mulia and Bac Viet Dam
In Ho Ho sub-watershed in north-central Viet Nam, farmers do not deploy systems that mix trees and annual crops, except in their home gardens. In the eyes of the farmers, it is not possible to cultivate different plants together outside of a home garden. Certainly, they say, trees cannot be planted between annual crops.
These were the initial findings by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre who interviewed groups of farmers and other people in the district as part of the Climate-Smart, Tree-Based, Co-Investment in Adaptation and Mitigation in Asia (Smart Tree-Invest) project, which is co-funded by the International Fund for Agriculture Development and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.
During the discussions, farmers cited a number of barriers to agroforestry systems that grow trees and annual crops together: land size, flooding, lack of knowledge, scarcity of seedlings and a dearth of markets for tree products. These obstacles were then further discussed with other key people, such as commune and village leaders and officers of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, to explore potential solutions. The researchers, together with the farmers and others, developed options for overcoming the obstacles. Trees have been proven to increase farm resilience to climate extremes while also improving livelihoods and enhancing environmental services.
Obstacles and options
The average landholding for annual crops in the commune is 0.1 ha (1000 m2). Given these small areas of land, farmers felt that planting trees, and thus reducing the available area for annual crops, would threaten their food security. However, trees could be introduced to only certain plots of annual crops, such as in areas of maize, without affecting the staple rice fields, since most of the maize production is for livestock feed. Planting trees in these areas would thus not threaten farmers’ food security. Indeed, a portion of the income gained from the tree products can be used to purchase livestock feed and compensate for any reduction in maize production.
Flash flooding occurs between August and October, destroying annual crops and making it difficult to plant trees. Flash flooding is also the reason most annual cropland cannot be cultivated in a second planting season. But since flash flooding primarily affects areas within 100 m of both sides of the riverbanks, trees could be introduced in plots beyond this threshold, say researchers.
While farmers were aware of the value of planting trees amid annual crops, however, they were ill-informed of the tree species that would be suitable to plant. To overcome this, visits between communes and villages that did intercrop could facilitate the exchange of ideas and increase knowledge about management and suitable tree-planting techniques.
Seedlings of desirable tree species were not available at the commune level. Acacia seedlings were readily available but seedlings from other fruit trees, such as pomelo and orange, or valuable timbers, such as Aquilariacrassna Pierre and Melia azedarach, were available only at the district centre or in other districts.
Finally, the farmers stated that there was a lack of consumer demand for tree products other than timber from acacia. The researchers understood that this was clearly a major barrier against planting trees. However, another project in the district, also funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and sharing information with Smart Tree-Invest, is working to establish a market value-chain for potential commercial trees, such as pomelo and orange.
Smart Tree-Invest Viet Nam is currently trying to bridge the gap between farmers and policy makers’ perspectives through meeting together, both at commune and district levels, with the aim of establishing demonstration plots for agroforestry experiments with trees, maize or beans. The introduction of trees amid annual crops is likely to bring economic, ecological and social benefits to the people of the district. Trees have the ability to increase long-term household income, create better micro-climates above annual crops, and attract more people to exchange ideas about plot production and management.
Smart Tree-Invest, which operates in Viet Nam, Philippines and Indonesia, investigates local knowledge and perceptions regarding the role of trees in livelihoods and environmental services in order to help farmers adapt to climate and market changes.
This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry