Can trees help Vietnamese farmers escape poverty?
Tree products can provide significant income for many households when annual crops or livestock aren’t profitable, according to research in Bac Kan Province in Northeastern Viet Nam.
By Rachmat Mulia and Hoan Trong Do
Compared to current annual crop and livestock practices, trees can provide farmers with long-term benefits and the chance to permanently escape from poverty.
These findings were one result from World Agroforestry Centre researchers who conducted interviews with farmers in 12 communes in Bac Kan Province of Northeastern Viet Nam as part of the Securing Ecosystems and Carbon Benefits by Unlocking Reversal of Emission Drivers in Landscapes (Secured Landscapes) project, which is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.
The researchers found that owing to private consumption of their farm products by farmers, average income earned in 2014 from annual crops and livestock was predominantly negative. In areas where annual crops or livestock did provide income, a number of obstacles prevented replication in other places. For example, whereas maize and rice might be profitable in one area where they were used to produce alcohol for local sale, production required large quantities of firewood that simply wasn’t available in other areas; this was a similar case for tobacco. For some farmers, cattle were profitable but generally this wasn’t the case because most households kept only one or two cows or buffaloes for domestic use owing to shortages of fodder and weak profitability in the long term; sales of cattle or buffaloes were reserved for urgent financial needs. Starch from Canna species was used to make cellophane noodles known as miến dong but demand was limited for even high-quality products.
By comparison, trees from agroforestry and other tree-based systems could provide substantial income for households while the systems themselves provide ecosystem services. Even though the young plantations were not yet in full production at the time of the study, four households were already benefiting financially from the systems.
In 2014, one of the four households harvested nearly 2500 of seven-year-old Manglietia conifera trees, producing a net income of VND 8,200,000,000 (± USD 364,000); another harvested ten of 15-year-old Styrax tonkinensis trees for a return of VND 128,000,000 (± USD 5680); a third harvested the fruit of 100 three-year-old persimmon trees for an income of VND 290,000,000 (± USD 12,900); and the fourth sold leaves from 2000 tea trees to earn VND 22,000,000 (± USD 1000). The poverty line in rural areas of Viet Nam is set at VND 5,000,000 (± USD 222) per capita per year, hence, the returns above are substantial.
Seven species of trees are commonly cultivated by local people, including Manglietia conifera, Melia azedarach, acacia, bamboo, cinnamon, star anise and tea. The researchers are continuing to enhance tree planting and contribute to farmers’ livelihoods through investigating local preferences for tree species and barriers to planting trees at the commune, or local government, level.
Thanks are addressed to Luyen Thi Doan, Dung Thi Kim Pham and Hua Duyen Thuy for data collection.
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry
Interviewing farmers in the commune office on sources of household income.Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Rachmat Mulia.
Tobacco farm in Coc Dan commune of Bac Kan province, Viet Nam. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Rachmat Mulia.
Rice and maize are two main annual crops in the province. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Rachmat Mulia.