Tai vách mạch rừng. The walls have ears, the forest has a path. While the old Vietnamese adage is typically said to warn about the consequences of indiscreet speech, good news seems to travel the same way – by seeping through villages’ borders and the thick northern Vietnam forests, from Ma village in Yen Bai all the way to Cao Bang, 300km up north.

Duong Van Dung, a farmer in Cao Bang province and a member of the Nung ethnic group, first heard of the sustainable farming practices being performed by farmers in Ma village early this year. He got particularly interested in the “biological bed” – a mixture of rice husks, sawdust and brewer’s yeast  laid out on the ground in his chicken coop  – for the around 100 chickens that his family keeps. The microorganisms present in the mixture decompose the chicken dung, keep bad odors at bay, and keep the grounds clean, helping make the chickens grow in good health.

It’s easy to maintain too: when bad odor eventually begins to form after about a month, a new layer of the mixture just needs to be heaped on top of the existing one. After six months, when the chickens are ready for sale, the mixture can go into the garden plot to serve as fertilizer for vegetables and fruit trees.

This practice makes use of resources efficiently. It helps farmers gain more income without compromising the quality of the environment and their resilience to the effects of a warming climate.

Spreading the good news

Van Dung was one of more than 20 farmers from Yen Bai and Cao Bang provinces who came to Ma, joined by guests from government agencies, including farmers’ outreach or extension offices, to learn about climate-smart farming. As well as biological bedding, they got to see and hear about vermiculture, cut and carry systems, and integrated home gardens.

More than 20 farmers, together with Department of Agriculture officials, from Yen Bai and Cao Bang provinces came to Ma village to learn about climate-smart farming practices.

These practices are being used by farmers in Ma, and have produced noteworthy benefits, including improved environmental quality, increased savings on farming materials, and increased incomes from better productivity. All of these contribute to increasing farmers’ capacity to adapt to impacts of climate change.

The work is part of efforts to build sustainably productive farming communities across the country. “The only way that climate-smart farming practices could make an impact on Vietnamese society and economy is if they are taken up by as many farmers as possible,” says Vinh Le Bui, CIAT coordinator for the climate-smart village (CSV) project in Vietnam.

Guests from outside Ma village learned of and saw the benefits of sustainable farming practices such as biological bedding, cut and carry system, vermiculture, and integrated home gardening.

Spreading the word about farming practices in Ma that both increase productivity and do no harm to the environment began in October last year. The farmers shared their thoughts and stories about how climate change has begun to impact them, particularly, their livelihoods, through photos of various aspects of their lives and community that they themselves took. Local Department of Agriculture officials came to hear their stories, including of their struggles, in a rare dialogue that one farmer described as “extraordinarily empowering.”

At a photovoice activity held in October 2016, farmers at Ma shared stories of how climate change has impacted them through photos that they themselves took.

A common concern voiced by the farmers during the dialogue was the disease that developed in acacia trees which they used to plant and harvest for veneer. Farmers had long ago shifted to planting eucalyptus – a fast growing, low maintenance, and highly adaptable tree. But they experienced a decrease in productivity, which they linked to a decline in soil quality. For Ma’s smallholder farmers, poor soil health would mean yet another layer of protection removed to shield them from possible impacts of a changing climate – yield and income losses due to higher temperatures, droughts and changing rainfall patterns. They would like to go back to planting acacia because unlike eucalyptus, acacia helps improve soil fertility because of its biological nitrogen-fixing capability. The problem is that the risk of disease, and therefore loss of investment, in acacia is high.

A few months later, the Yen Bai Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in cooperation with the provincial Department of Science and Technology, launched a $14,000-research project to study acacia disease.

It just goes to show, word gets around and can come to something if it falls on the right ears.

Scaling up and out

“Spreading the word upwards to people of authority, and outwards to the rest of the farming communities, should be done in parallel. This would ensure that both policy and action on the ground work together to truly create an impact. For action on the ground, the work of extension offices is extremely important,” says Bui.

CIAT’s Climate Policy Hub, a knowledge center guiding policy and investment decisions related to climate change action, is leading the “scaling up” part. By working with governments and development organizations, it helps ensure that building resilience against the impacts of climate change is integrated into the development agenda, and can be effectively acted upon. In Asia, the Hub works with the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Philippine Department of Agriculture.

With help from agriculture extension offices, particularly the Yen Bai province extension center, sustainably productive practices will be “scaled out” to other farming communities in Vietnam.

“We will develop an outreach plan to as well train extension officers at various levels,” says Do Thi Van, Vice-Director at the Yen Bai extension center.

A training event on the framework of and practices making up climate-smart agriculture, for Yen Bai province’s extension officers, is scheduled for the last quarter of the year.

This action is part of the Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) initiative addressing the vulnerability of farmers to impacts of climate change by testing, evaluating, promoting and scaling up integrated portfolios of CSA technologies and practices. As a Climate-Smart Village, Ma is a testing ground for CSA technologies and practices that would help improve agricultural productivity and the village’s climate resilience, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its agricultural systems. The initiative is implemented by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture through the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS is supported by https://ccafs.cgiar.org/donors.

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