Island farmers dig deep to bury climate change
|Cracking crop: A farmer is happy with her bumper haul of papayas. — VNS Photo Pham Hoang Van
by Pham Hoang Nam
For the last five years, the livelihood of residents on Cu Lao Dung Island in Soc Trang Province has been increasingly at risk because of the effects of climate change.
"Sometimes thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed by heavy rains," Nguyen Tri Dung, chairman of An Thanh Nam Commune in the district, said..
To protect the area's farmland, a four-year project begun in 2011 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) gives training to local residents who take part directly in "building resilience" to climate change.
As part of the effort, the IUCN works with local government officials and residents in eight coastal provinces in Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam, showing them how they can also profit from the programme by becoming actively involved.
|Decisions, decisions: An expert from IUCN helps farmers select the best young trees. — VNS Photo Pham Hoang Van
"Pilot activities promote sustainable management and strategic rehabilitation of natural resources," Nguyen Duc Tu, an IUCN expert, said. "This will make local ecosystems more resilient to climate change and also improve food and livelihood security of the local community."
The area on Cu Lao Dung Island, which is located in an estuary where seawater and riverwater mix, is considered one of the most vulnerable in the country to the effects of climate change.
In recent years, crops such as sugarcane, vegetables, fruit and rice, which form the main income of local residents, have been subject to rising sea levels, storms, higher tides, landslides, increased temperatures, saltwater intrusion and serious flooding.
The commune has a total of 1,000 ha of mangrove forest and its coastline of 17 kilometres includes large areas of mudflats, which allow local people to grow clams and exploit aquatic resources from mangrove forests.
"To reduce climate change and maintain livelihood for our local residents, we must protect the mangrove forest," said Dang Quoc Chi, vice-head of the district's Agriculture Department.
|Growing a lifeline: Papayas help farmers eliminate poverty and hunger. — VNS Photo Pham Hoang Van
Looking to the future
Climate change affects marine and coastal ecosystems through a gradual process, notably an increase in temperature, changes in salinity levels, acidity, turbidity and loss of habitat due to higher sea levels.
According to IUCN, climate-change scenarios for Soc Trang include stronger winds, higher waves and an increase in the frequency of storms. Sea levels in the East Sea in southern Viet Nam are rising by three to 5.5mm per year, and the dry season is expected to become longer and hotter.
Along with local authorities, the IUCN project leaders have spent the last 14 months drawing up regulations on how to properly exploit natural resources, and how to protect forests based on negotiations between local governments and residents.
"As the first step, we asked local residents how they want to treat the mangrove forests, then we discussed how to properly exploit and protect mangroves, Chi said.
"After that, we provided detailed regulations and we excluded one area where no one can come to allow aquatic species and wildlife to be reproductive," he added.
More than 200 residents in Vo Thanh Van hamlet were asked to become actively involved in the Mangrove Forest Co-management Group.
The group members ensure that no one cuts down trees, and in return they have the right to catch seafood in the forest.
Trinh Man, 58, a local ethnic Khmer man, along with his son, joined the group when it was first formed.
He said his 5,000 sq.m of sugarcane was not enough to sustain his family.
"Seafood has become less plentiful and we worry about the future. When the project started, I began to understand why we need to protect and properly exploit the forest," Man said.
Every day, Man, his son and his group's members are divided into smaller groups to protect the forest day and night.
For 10 days each month, Man earns VND1-2 million (US$50-100) by catching seafood in his area of protected forest.
"If you're not a member of the group, you're not allowed to come into the forest. We have to increase awareness among our relatives and neighbours, and even watch other people in other localities so they won't come and exploit the forest," farmer Nguyen Van Khoai, 38, said.
Local authorities also visit neighbouring localities and talk with people about the benefits of forest protection.
"We invite people to join our clam collective. If they do, they have the rights and duties of collective members. If they don't, they at least understand the regulations," Chi said.
|Ripe and ready: Papaya is processed for export. — VNS Photo Pham Hoang Van
Along with protecting the mangrove forests and marine resources, the project has also supported vocational training for housewives, who are now earning a stable income of VND1-2 million each month. Agricultural production in line with local weather conditions has also been practiced.
Prior to the programme, adult and baby fish were caught indiscriminately, which threatened the sustainability of coastal species. But this has ceased as a result of awareness-raising activities about sustainable fishery practices.
The IUCN project also supports the construction of two small-scale water supply stations in Vam Ho and Vo Thanh Van hamlets.
Funded by the EU, in partnership with the Viet Nam Administration of Seas and Islands and the German Agency for International Cooperation, the IUCN project supports the integration of climate-change adaptation strategies into policy development and local socio-economic planning.
In addition, it promotes eco-system-based solutions that allow for harmonious interaction between people and nature, and advocates a shift from monoculture mangrove plantation for dyke protection to multiple-species mangrove restoration with integrated aquaculture practices.
By doing so, this provides not only ecological but also social and economic benefits.
"The local government and community hopes that the model will be expanded even when the project is completed because we have realised long-term benefits of forest protection, not only for our incomes but also in the context of climate change," said Nguyen Tri Dung, chairman of the An Thanh Nam Commune's People's Committee.
The Mangrove Forest Co-management Group is expected to grow in number and become even more effective, he said.
"We expect the Soc Trang People's Committee to agree to give local residents the right to protect and use mangrove forests. That would help the model become even more successful," he added. — VNS