Viet Nam News
By Khoa Thư
BẮC KẠN – Farmers and researchers may seem to have little in common, let alone to work side by side.
A special project, however, empowers barefoot farmers to conduct insightful studies into the issues of their communities. They not only work with researchers, they become them, all without stepping into the ivory tower.
In the Northeast mountainous area of Việt Nam lies Bắc Kạn Province, the home of Việt people and other ethnic minority groups including Tày, Dao and Mông.
Before 2015, Trương Thị Hội from Phúc Lộc Commune in Ba Bể District was a normal farmer among thousands of local small landholders, struggling to keep diseases away from her cattle and to bargain for good prices with meat dealers. Now, she is a head of a local cooperative specialising in the husbandry of indigenous black pigs. She helps identify more favourable markets for products from her farm and those of the other 14 members.
The change is thanks to the “Rights and Voice of Ethnic Minority Women” (R&V) project initiated by CARE International and the EU Delegation to Việt Nam.
Since it launched in 2015, the R&V project has gone beyond typical poverty eradication programmes to engage 94 female farmers in a special process called co-researching.
Research is used as a method to improve capacity and enhance the voices of women in the area. They were offered training in cultural diversity, visual storytelling and participatory methodology research to identify local issues and propose solutions to public agencies and social organisations.
From July 2015 to June 2018, 21 co-researching groups were established under the project’s framework in Phúc Lộc and Bành Trạch communes in Ba Bể District.
Explaining the model, Nguyễn Đức Thành, the project director from Care International, told Việt Nam News that ethnic minorities were commonly portrayed in public media as lazy and dependent. These images create prejudice in public servants, leading to policies that fail to tackle these communities’ issues and also reinforce existing stereotypes.
By handing decision-making power to female farmers, the project expects them to advocate to create changes in their own communities.
Hội and her 14 group members chose the husbandry of indigenous black pigs as their subject. They implemented a comprehensive study into pig farming in Phúc Lộc Commune.
Previously, white pig husbandry was common in the commune due to its high productivity.
The group members walked through the commune, taking photos of and interviewing a few farmers who still practise the husbandry of indigenous black pigs. They also compared the prices of different types of pork on the market. They found significant advantages in raising local black pigs over white ones.
“Since black pigs are familiar with the local conditions, they are less susceptible to diseases and do not need vaccinations,” she said. “Moreover, because of its special taste, local pork is preferred by the marking, bringing us sustainable income.”
The group of 15 then formed the first collaborative in Phúc Lộc Commune. Together they share experiences in feeding, disease prevention and treatment as well as bargaining.
“Now dealers can no longer reduce the price. Some other farmers have started to follow our model, all thanks to the research findings we obtained years ago,” she said.
Together, the groups’ studies survey a vast territory, from farming methods and the environment to education and even culture.
The solutions proposed by farmers are down-to-earth and practical.
Hoàng Thị Na from Bành Trạch Communce, Ba Bể District, worked with her group to conduct research on plastic pollution in the area. Now, they plan to use existing local government structures to support broad change.
“We recommended waste sorting to be included in our hương ước (the highest local agreements) to ask people to take full responsibility for protecting the environment,” Na said.
Change, not charity
The 2017 Việt Nam Provincial Governance and Public Performance Index (PAPI) showed that Bắc Kạn Province has demonstrated improvement in participation at local government levels. Simultaneously, the percentage of local households that are poor fell from 26.61 per cent in 2016 to 24.53 per cent last year.
The achievement is the result of cooperative efforts made by local authorities, people and social organisations.
Stressing the significance of R&V project, Hà Thị Liễu, head of the provincial women’s union, said that female farmers were more conscious of local issues and proactive in taking up initiatives. Their engagement in solving social issues accelerates socio-economic development and enhances the role of women in the community.
“The project has expanded to five other communes and will be implemented in 15 other provinces, starting with the Mekong Delta province of Trà Vinh. We expect it will create changes as it has here,” she said.
To project initiators, however, the expectations are much simpler.
“What we want to see from them (co-researchers) simply is the ability to take initiative and confidently enhance their engagement in tackling the problems of the communities they live in,” said Thành.
Sùng Thị Hoa, who participated in a co-research project on local school dropouts, told us the biggest change she experienced while researching. Her methodology, called “photo-voice”, involved conducting interviews and photographing interviewees to visually tell the story of the problems they were hoping to solve.
“Working on the photo-voice project was so much fun. I used to be scared to talk to strangers, but now it is just easy for me to start a conversation and learn from everybody I meet,” she said. – VNS