A strong impression still remains in my mind from the field trip for the Building Resilience Impacts to Climate Change Project (BCR) in Soc Trang province. It is a story about a talented and self-motivated poor rural woman in Vinh Tan commune, Vinh Chau district, Soc Trang Province who has created a livelihood model with her own initiative in a coastal strip dominated by shrimp farms.
During the BCR field trip, we visited Nau Pon hamlet of Vinh Tan Commune. The landscape looked so worn out as it is mostly occupied by extensive shrimp farms and salt farms located next to an eroded sea dyke and degraded mangrove. The commune chairperson informed us that in this location, many Khmer people’s livelihoods are mainly based on the exploitation of fish and other aquatic organisms from the mangroves. The local people are highly depended on natural resources and their income sources are very uncertain. Among the Khmer, 62% of households are classified as poverty stricken.
However, a wonderful livelihood model has appeared in this coastal area. That is a fruit garden of Mrs. Le Thi Hoa who lives just a few hundred meters away from the sea dyke. Thanks to Mr. Tran Van Tang, chairperson of Vinh Tan Commune, we were introduced to Mrs. Hoa and her Vietnamese Apple garden. She is a friendly woman. Through her story, we know that her life was very difficult ten years ago. Her family was doing extensive shrimp farming, but had lost three to four shrimp crops. She was indebted to the banks. Mrs. Hoa worried for her family’s future and wondered how to live when she gets old in this barren land. Selling some of their one hectare of land for capital, she started to search for alternative livelihoods. She tried to grow different crops such as watermelon but it was not a success. She persevered until one day she saw people selling Vietnamese apple seedlings. She decided to plant 65 trees on 0,1 ha of her garden. After a few years, the trees started to produce fruits and every year she earns around 60 million VND (estimately USD 2,900). This is an amazing amount of money compared to the average 20 million per ha from other land use in the same location. To build on this success, Mrs. Hoa and her husband are now planning to build a pig farm on their land to increase their income.
This story is about one household’s self-initiative to adapt in a situation of high risk. It demonstrates that with a small amount of their own capital, local people such as Mrs Hoa’s can initiate and make their own livelihood choices that are better suited their local environments. The lesson here for BCR is that awareness is a crucial first step. If communities have initiative and some productive capital, they can very well take their lives into their own hands.
Tang Phuong Gian - BCR field coordinator - IUCN Vietnam