Poor? Restore!: When dreams come true

Giang Thi Hoa at Hanoi University, Vietnam

In parts 1 and 2, we heard of the vicious circle of poverty, environmental degradation and monocultural maize production and how the introduction of a farming system that combined trees, crops, grasses and livestock changed lives for the better. In Part 3, we hear how they changed.

Giang Thi Hoa, the 21 year-old woman from a poor farming family, had longed to study at university to improve her own and her family’s lives. But with only enough savings to send their eldest son to the city to study, Hoa was in despair of ever achieving her dream. Fortunately, her father and mother had volunteered to take part in Agroforestry for Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers in Northwest Viet Nam, an agricultural development project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. With the introduction of high-value trees, fodder grasses and annual crops to their farm, Hoa’s parents were able to make enough money to send Hoa to university and continue to improve their own lives.

Ha Noi’s cost of living can be USD 220 a month or more, amounting to large sums for farmers on low incomes. Yet the project’s innovative farming systems used by Hoa’s parents were able to generate the sums needed to see Hoa through university.

On their three plots totalling a mere 1.5 hectares, they grew the indigenous tree known as “H’mong apple” or son tra (Docynia indica) with grasses that can be fed to livestock; coffee and other fruit trees; and had fishponds, cattle and buffaloes. This amounted to a remarkable combination of productive species on small plots of land. The systems not only dramatically improved their income but also restored degraded land to robust, sustainable health. Their neighbours have been learning from them and applying the new knowledge to their own plots, with similar results.

Longan, maize and forage grass, Vietnam. Photo by Nguyen Mai Phuong/ICRAF

The systems were co-designed with farmers, agricultural experts from universities and extension agencies and researchers with World Agroforestry (ICRAF) using computer modelling and lots of discussion, followed up by trials in farmers’ fields, including building tree nurseries that produced high-quality seedlings. The systems so designed integrated various productive and regulating elements that farmers wanted, providing short-, medium- and long-term economic, social and environmental benefits. The knowledge applied by ICRAF and partners stemmed from years of research work in the Northwest, throughout Viet Nam, Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, Hoa finished a degree at the Ha Noi University of Culture and quickly found work with the Government in an agency devoted to the people’s welfare in Lai Chau Province, in the same region as her home village.