The hills are coming to life
For agroforesters, there is nothing more refreshing than seeing a hill covered with trees interplanted with crops. For agroforesters concerned with livelihoods, health and nutrition, there is nothing sweeter than seeing a hill covered with fruit trees and nutritious vegetables.
Both these cases applied to me when I recently visited sites of the World Agroforestry Centre and the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) in Son La Province of Northwest Viet Nam.
The primary purpose of my visit on 15–17 June 2015 was to represent the East and Central Asia Region and the Thailand and Viet Nam country programs of the World Agroforestry Centre at the fourth meeting of the Humidtropics’ Central Mekong Action Area/Flagship Core Team, which also included people from the World Vegetable Center, Bioversity, International Center for Tropical Agriculture, International Livestock Research Institute, International Water Management Institute and Wageningen University and Research Centre.
The team took the whole day to travel from Hanoi to Son La City on Sunday 14 June. The trip was not as rugged as my first journey to Son La back in May 2013, which was also related to Humidtropics. This time, the road had been generally improved. We stopped for lunch at an H’mong restaurant and cultural centre in Moc Chau.
The day prior to the Flagship Core Team meeting, we were taken to visit a number of homegarden and agroforestry demonstration sites in Mai Son District. The first stop was an H’mong village called Thong in Muong Bon Commune. This was where the World Vegetable Center and International Water Management Institute were running a homegarden trial with highly nutritious vegetables, for example, pumpkins, yard-long beans and some indigenous vegetables. H’mong people were not generally known for having homegardens; they normally gathered vegetables from the wild.
The next stop, in Doan Ket Village, Muong Bon Commune, was to see the Humidtropics’ Cluster 4 field trials on the integration of coffee, fruit trees (mango and longan), grass strips and vegetables. The trials were being implemented by Viet Nam’s Soil and Fertilizer Research Center (SFRI). The team then met with the Humidtropics’ Research-for-Development Platform members, including Mai Son extension officers, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Son La, farmers’ groups and local research institutes, such as SFRI, Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Institute and the Forestry Science Centre for the Northwest, and discussed issues related to the Platform.
In the afternoon, we visited two more sites. The first featured commercial vegetables and was conducted by the World Vegetable Center and the Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute in Mai Tien Village, which was also in Muong Bon commune. The second was an agroforestry trial with combinations of teak, plum, fodder and short-term crops that was being implemented by our own World Agroforestry Centre in Tan Que Village, Co Noi Commune, also in Mai Son District.
On a personal note, I met a number of Tai people in the fields. I am Thai and they are Tai. The former is a modern name for Siamese people, where ‘Thai’ literally means ‘freedom’, so Thailand means ‘Land of the Free’. The latter refers to ethnic minority groups who have settled across the Upper Mekong in the northern parts of modern-day Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, and southern China, particularly Xishaungbanna Autonomous Region. We share some common spoken words, housing styles and cuisine. I felt connected to the Tai people whom I met during the trip, which was wonderful.
This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics