|A couple from Chong Village on the farm. They say they always use water from the canal to water their crop in the field. — Photo Thu Giang
by Thu Giang
HOA BINH (VNS) — After much time and effort taken by villagers in Dong Lai Commune in the northern mountain province of Hoa Binh they are celebrating the construction of a small irrigation canal.
Bui Thi Nhien, a Muong ethnic resident, said the cement canal, which runs along the paddy field, has become a special project for the village because all the members participated in its planning, budgeting, building and monitoring.
The work is part of the Public Service Provision Improvement Programme in Agriculture and Rural Development (PSARD) in Hia Binh and Cao Bang provinces which began in 2011 and was funded by Hoa Binh and Cao Bang Provinces and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC), with technical support from HELVETAS Swiss Inter-cooperation.
The programme aims at encouraging local planning, financial decentralisation and improving public service deliveries in agriculture to reduce poverty, in addition to improving livelihoods in disadvantaged areas in the two provinces.
Nhien said this was the first time she had joined such a project, which saw participation by people ranging from provincial authorities to residents.
"We local residents do not have the money, but we have labour and leisure time after our farming is completed. We are willing to work as builders," Nhien said.
"We designed and built the channel ourselves. Those families that have motorcycles were in charge of transporting materials, like sand, cement and bricks, to the banks of the paddy field, while people carried materials on their heads, shoulders or on foot from the bank to the construction area, and others were responsible for building the canal. The work was always supervised by leaders of the village and the commune," Nhien added.
The new irrigation canal replaces the old one, which was funded and built by the State, but not constructed with cement.
The village, with 135 households comprising 600 members, received VND197 million from the programme last year, while local residents contributed VND127 million in working days. Nearly 480 metres of the canal has been built to irrigate two hectares of paddy fields.
Chong Village is among the 16 in Dong Lai Commune that have benefitted from PSARD since 2011.
Deputy Chairman of the People's Committee of Dong Lai Commune Luong Ba Phi said his commune's economy depended on the cultivation of rice and other crops. When the commune received funds from PSARD through the Commune Development Fund (CDF), which provides resources for essential small-scale infrastructure and agricultural improvements, his commune selected the most difficult villages and held meetings with the participation of local residents to discuss implementing the work.
The commune's average income is VND18 million per person per year. Most local residents are freelancers and seasonal workers.
"The canal, built by Chong villagers does not look nice but it will endure for a long time. We hope the programme will continue funding similar projects to improve the living standards of local residents," Phi said.
Under the PSARD programme, Phi said the commune had built many inter-village roads, healthcare centres, schools and canals. "They are, of course, simple and suitable for the needs of local residents."
Sharing these experiences at a review conference held recently in Hoa Binh Province, manager of PSARD in Hoa Binh, Do Thanh Hai, said the programme had been carried out at 87 communes that were not under the government's programme 135 to reduce hunger and eliminate poverty.
Through training courses and using a guidebook on managing construction and investment in localities, the financial management capacity of the leaders of the commune has improved. They also used computer software to assist in accounting and budget management, Hai said.
|Country Director of SDC in Viet Nam, Samuel Waelty (far right), and Senior Programme Officer of SDC Dao Minh Chau (far left), receive Certificate of Merit from Deputy Chairman of Cao Bang People's Committee Dam Van Eng. — Photo Courtesy of SDC
Also speaking at the conference, Country Director of SDC in Viet Nam Samuel Waelty said PSARD was a successful project that had delivered three important results, including grassroots participatory planning for socio-economic development, commune development funds and farm field schools.
In Viet Nam, communes form the lowest level of government, and the level closest to the people. The planning allows people to ensure that their commune plans reflect their needs and demands and is a concrete way to implement the Grassroots Democracy Ordinance, according to Samuel.
As a result, in 2015, the Hoa Binh Provincial People's Council issued a resolution to continue this model in the period between 2016 and 2020. Meanwhile, Cao Bang Provincial People's Committee has issued a decision to apply this model in the implementation of programme 135 and other programmes. This is meant to ensure that the needs and demands of 1.3 million people living in these two provinces will be reflected in their commune plans, now and in the future.
Samuel further said that participatory commune plans had only become effective when finances were available for the implementation of identified priorities.
During the project period, 87 communes in Hoa Binh and 62 communes in Cao Bang have each received an annual commune development fund of VND200 million to VND400 million. More than 2,000 vital small-scale infrastructure plans were implemented with support from CDFs and are highly cost-efficient, as they better meet the needs of people, and help build trust and accountability between authorities and citizens.
According to Deputy Director of Cao Bang Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs Cam Thi Nhung, the potential to integrate planning for programme 135 into the annual socio-economic development planning process, showed clearly how to improve the efficiency of fund allocations and their uses.
However, Nhung said there were existing challenges in the integration, including the fact that much of the programme 135 budget for 2015 needed to be spent on finalising infrastructure from previous years, leaving a relatively small budget to be decentralised. Also, there were many staff rotations, especially at the commune level – leading to slow progress and the need for more capacity building.
"CDF is small, only around 10 per cent to 15 per cent of annual commune budgets, but it has a large impact relative to its size.
"It has supported the implementation of grassroots democracy in which people need, people know, people discuss, people contribute, people do, people check and people benefit," Nhung said.
Nguyen Lam Giang, country director of HELVETAS Swiss Inter-cooperation, which provides technical support to convert ideas into practices, said the project lasted five years and created a new way of thinking and working, from exploring ideas to testing ideas and developing prototypes into products ready for replication and institutionalisation.
"Sometimes they can accept changes easily, but sometimes it takes many years to help them change a habit. To reach the project's success as seen today, we have to help them organise many meetings to discuss the way to carry out the construction works. However, not every meeting was successful," Giang added.
Hoa Binh and Cao Bang were poor provinces and their financial and human resources are still limited. These areas are mountainous and poorly connected to the growth engines of the country. External support, whether from the central government or from donors, was still important, especially for Cao Bang.
In addition, some ethnic minority groups living in both Hoa Binh and Cao Bang, such as Mong, Dao, San Chi, and Lo Lo, still have limited access to the benefits of development.
"What we help with are the needs of people, publicity and transparency, which will lead us to success. We give them an effective working method, and they will surely support, not only by brainstorming, but also with labour," she added.