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Social media as a buffer in times of crises

Update: April, 13/2015 - 03:23

by Hoai Nam

It never rains but it pours. Farmers in the central province of Quang Nam Province are not likely to know this saying, but they sure know what it means.

Uninterrupted heavy rain last week flooded over 80ha of watermelon crops, vegetable gardens and rice fields in some districts along the Vu Gia and Thu Bon rivers.

Of all the crops, watermelon was the hardest hit, as it would rot soon in floodwaters.

Many farmers were pushed to the edge of bankruptcy as they'd agreed to sell the fruit at around VND4,000 per kilo to wholesalers. When the floods hit, the buyers demanded their advance back.

Farmers harvested the fruit with no real hope of even recouping their investment.

"It's a zero harvest. We are on the edge," said Phan Nhan, a farmer in Dai Loc District.

"From expecting a bumper profit, we have been reduced to hopelessness."

However, help came from a completely unexpected quarter.

As the first media reports on the farmers' plights came out, residents and online readers shared the information on social media sites like Facebook.

Tran Dinh Quoc Khuong, a resident of Da Nang, was the first to offer to organise a charity sale of watermelons and mention it on his page, appealing for help from the Facebook community.

He set up stalls on some streets in Da Nang with a banner calling for help for farmers in the neighbouring province.

"Buy melons with your heart," the banner said. In a few days, over 10 tonnes of melon were sold at VND5,000 per kilo.

"Farm produce in the districts of Dai Loc, Duy Xuyen and Dien Ban were most hit by floods. Wholesale dealers refused to buy water-soaked melons as they were of poor quality. So, we persuaded passers-by and online buyers," Khuong said, adding that many volunteers joined him in selling watermelons at six stalls on main streets of Da Nang.

Other Facebook community volunteers did the same on the main roads of flood-prone districts in Tam Ky City, Vinh Dien Town and other districts in Quang Nam.

"I have always lived in rural areas, but I am yet to see such an unusual flooding during the dry season. This year's flood has washed away all the efforts and hopes of poor farmers," he said.

"We (volunteers) have tried to ease their pain. I have also asked people to raise funds for helping some farmers clear their debts at banks," Khuong said.

Young students and other volunteers in Ha Noi joined the action.

Six stalls selling watermelons for farmers in Quang Nam were set up at various locations. Sold at a non-profit price of VND5,000 per kilo, 14 tonnes were sold in a few days.

Vu Thi Hang, a volunteer on Ba Trieu Street, said 1.5 tonnes of melon were brought by residents very early in the morning.

Hang said her friends also set up stalls on Nguyen Khuyen, Tran Duy Hung and Kim Giang streets, and the fruit sold well there too.

"The number of people booking the fruit online were so many that some buyers had to leave without getting any."

Nguyen Thi Huong and Nguyen Huy Tuan took the lead in calling on the Facebook community in Ha Noi to sharing difficulties with farmers in Quang Nam.

"We sold 15 tonnes, but it's still a modest volume in comparison to stagnant crops in Quang Nam."

A volunteer in Da Nang expressed on Facebook her disappointment with the behaviour of wholesale dealers, blaming them for their lack of empathy and worse, forcing farmers in affected areas to sell at dumping prices.

Whether or not their difficulties were completely solved, farmers were moved by the efforts of strangers from all over the country.

Hua Dinh Thanh, 56, a farmer from Dai Loc, said he would have been bankrupted if the volunteers did not support him.

"It's a great help that we've received from young people. They had to overcome difficulties of weather and transportation," he said.

Nguyen Huu De, 52, of Dai Minh Commune, said he had no idea what he would do with the 1.2 tonnes of watermelon on his farm after the floods.

"I cannot say anything. I can only express my sincere thanks to the young volunteers. Best wishes to them. We farmers in the commune are grateful."

While this is a heart-warming story, we should also remember that looking out for each other has been a Vietnamese tradition, especially in rural areas, for millennia.

Such traditional buffers have been badly hit by the market economy, so what is really heartening is that the social media has opened a door to reviving a sense of community, or a sense of caring and sharing that we'd apparently lost. — VNS

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