Improving Household Food Security in Dak Rwa Commune by Strengthening Local Farming Technology in Sustainable Agriculture *Ended in 2011
The minority ethnic groups in Kon Tum Province in central Vietnam were suffering from low food self-sufficiency. For 4 years since July 2007, GLMi gave technical assistance on hillside farming, established pig banks, and educated children on environmental studies to promote agricultural skills to increase productivity.
Vietnam is a country that has been experiencing significant economic success as well as a widening economic inequality at the same time. GLMi ran a project between 2007 and 2011 in Dak Rwa village, where the people experienced a substantial change in their livelihood through a rapid shift to market economy.
Dak Rwa and the Bahnar people
The 5 villages within Dak Rwa were the main project target areas. These villages are inhabited by the Bahnar (or Ba Na) people who live in the traditional raised-floor housing called rong.
There are as many as 22 ethnic minority groups in Kon Tum Province - more than half of the province's population - including the groups who migrated from the northern parts of the country following the north-south unification in 1975. Among these groups of people, the Bahnar is an indigenous group with a long history of residence in the area. Indeed, the name of the province derives from the Bahnar language - "Kon" means village and "Tum" means pond.
The changing lifestyle of the Bahnar
In Kon Tum, due to increase in the inflow of migrants and the extent of land reclamation, the area of land that the Bahnar people have been traditionally using was in decline. As the new migrants conducted slash-and-burn in short cycles in small areas of land for cassava production, increasingly more arable land became exhausted and could support less and less crops. Also, since cash crops are heavily influenced by market fluctuations, when the market plunged the villagers sometimes had to let go of their farmland to maintain their living.
In Dak Rwa too, there were a number of cases where the Kinh, a wealthy and majority ethnic group, bought land and planted highly productive cash crops, whereas the Bahnar could not even earn enough from farming to access rice, their staple food, and had to become day laborers to complement their farm income.
Summary of Activities
Training on sustainable hillside farming
Joined by Mr. Yuto Aihara as an agro-forestry consultant, our project aimed at recovering soil fertility and sustainably increasing the productivity of the Bahnar's farmlands. We spread a hillside farming model in which tephrosia (a green manure crop) and boi loi trees (of which the bark is the raw material for incense sticks and fetches a high price) were planted along the contour, while cassavas were cultivated in between the contours as cash crops. Also, to help villagers sustain the knowledge and skills introduced by this project, educational activities such as planting of boi loi trees together with a local junior high school and a drawing contest on an environmental topic were conducted.
Initially, there were villagers who hesitated to try contour farming since it requires significant time and effort. However, thanks to those who experimented contour farming and spread the word about their positive experiences (such as improved soil conditions and increased size of cassava), more and more villagers eventually joined the project. This farming method was in the end evaluated highly as an effective way to ameliorate soil degradation and prevent deforestation by the Kon Tum Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Furthermore, the Kon Tum City People's Committee of Economic Chamber officially decided to spread the farming method to other villages.
The Bahnar people traditionally ate cassava leaves of a native variety and edible wild plants as side dishes. However, their diet became increasingly less nutritious due to the introduction of a foreign cassava variety of which the leaves are inedible, as well as the loss of some edible wild plants owing to deforestation and the ecological changes caused by it. As a result, the rate of malnutrition among children in Dak Rwa was higher than 30%.
In our project, a number of households were trained on home-gardening and workshops on nutrition were held. By the end of Year 3, as many as 107 households were home-gardening and 91 people, mostly mothers of infants, learned about basic nutrition and how to prepare nutritious complementary food. The villagers who were home-gardening reported that they were often eating the vegetables from their home gardens by cooking them in various ways.
Pig banks and pig breeding
In spreading the pig breeding skills, the project targeted 2 villages with particularly less resident-owned farmland among the 5 target villages. With the cooperation of Dak Rwa People's Committee Women's Group (hereafter the Women's Group), a pig bank was established in each village upon determining the distribution method of bred piglets. In the pig bank system, piglets were lent to a villager so that the villager could breed them and eventually sell the grown-up pigs to increase his/her income. The effects of the pig banks spread throughout each community by distributing the piglets born out of the original piglet to the borrower him/herself, other households and management groups. This one household, upon receiving a female piglet and breeding more piglets from her, even built a drainage system for a farmland to cope against the heavy rain during the rainy season. Even after the end of the project, the Women's Group and management groups from each village are cooperating to run the pig banks.