Friday, 29 July 2016

Achieving impact with agroforestry in North Western Vietnam

In the north-west of Vietnam, which is one of Vietnam’s poorer regions with many ethnic groups, large areas of steep land are farmed to grow hybrid maize. Over the past decade many forests have been cleared and the current agricultural system results in very substantial soil erosion. ACIAR is funding a five year agroforestry project (FST/2010/034) ‘Agroforestry for Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers in North-West Vietnam’ (AFLi), which is managed by the World Agroforestry Centre. The Vietnamese partners are: Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (NOMAFSI); Forest Science Centre of North Western Vietnam; Tay Bac University and the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development (DARD) from Son La, Yen Bai and Dien Bien Provinces. ACIAR recently reviewed its achievements to date and it is clear that the collaborative research on the introduction of various agroforestry systems has led to substantial impacts in a relatively short period.
Fodder grass contours established in maize fields. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.

At Sonh Thinh in Văn Chấn District, a farmer collaborator, Mr Tien, has worked with researchers from NOMAFSI and DARD extension staff from Yen Bai to establish an agroforestry trial involving late-fruiting longan, fodder grass and maize. Mr Tien indicated that after only 3 years he is already earning more from the agroforestry system than from mono-cropping of maize and he can see that the soil erosion has decreased significantly. He cuts the fodder grass every 45 days on a rotational basis and this increased availability of fodder has meant that he now has three cattle, whereas he only had one at the start of the trial. The grafted longan have some fruit on them in their third year and he expects that next year his income will increase significantly from the sale of fruit.

The overall yield of maize in the agroforestry system is not significantly different from the yield obtained in a mono-cropping system. As a result of this research collaboration, DARD in Yen Bai Province has introduced a scheme where they provide VND 1 million (AUD 59) per hectare for farmers to establish agroforestry systems. The reduction in soil loss are quite significant, from 36 tonnes per hectare in mono-cropping maize to 20 tonnes per hectare in the agroforestry system. The project scientists have estimated that the resulting reduction in loss of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is equivalent to a saving of USD 250 per year for the farmer.
Project staff and farmer collaboartion from Co Noi. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.
At Co Noi in Mai Sơn District, two other farmer collaborators are trialling different agroforestry systems. One is a complex agroforestry system involving plum trees (200 per hectare), coffee (2000 per hectare), soy beans, fodder grass and teak (300 per hectare). The farmer, Mr Bang, indicated that by the second year he was earning VND 57 million per hectare compared to VND 20-24 million per hectare from mono-cropping maize, even without returns from the fruit or timber trees. The farmer also commented that with hybrid maize he had to purchase seed each year whereas with the agroforestry system he only needed inputs in the first year. Another young farmer at Co Moi, is trialling an agroforestry system involving coffee and macadamia trees. After two years he explained that there is less soil erosion and he is earning more money from this system than from growing maize and cassava and the macadamia trees are only beginning to yield nuts. He is intending to use the income gained from this system to help expand the system onto the rest of his 4 hectare farm.

Landscape at Tuần Giáo. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.

At the high elevation village of Toa Tinh in Tuần Giáo District, the farming households suffer significant losses of cattle during periods of snow – in March 2016 more than 10 cattle died during the significant snow event that occurred. Project staff from the Forest Science Centre of North Western Vietnam have been working with local farmer collaborators to introduce a fodder grass and Son Tra (the H’Mong apple) agroforestry system. The trials are utilising grafted Son Tra trees taken from 30 superior clones identified by the project. The farmers are very enthusiastic about this agroforestry system because the Son Tra has begun fruiting at age 2.5 years and they had sufficient fodder for their cattle to ensure that that they did not die during the snow storm.

Farmers involved in Son Tra agrofrestry. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.

This community has 91 households but only two are currently involved in the agroforestry trial. However, on the basis of the good results from the project, the Ministry of Agriculture and Development (MARD) has agreed to provide VND 2 billion to fund further production of the Son Tra clones to enable another 30 hectares of clonal plantings to be established over the next 4 years. The DARD in Dien Bien province is also looking for ways to scale up the introduction of these agroforestry systems.

These three examples indicate that individual farmers can benefit from the introduction of agroforestry into their farming systems. But is there any real prospect that this research can be scaled up to achieve significant impact for a larger number of farmers? Two very positive indicators from north-west Vietnam suggest this is possible. Firstly, the project team, DARD and local communities are already co-investing in the scaling up of agroforestry through the establishment of “exemplary landscapes”. At Na Ban village in Mai Sơn District, a 50 hectare exemplary agroforestry landscape has been established by the project in collaboration with DARD (which funds 11%) and the community (which funds 35%).

Following a participatory process, 31 households from the 90 households in the Na Ban community decided to join the project, to establish dual rows of fodder grass, planted on the contour, and a variety of fruit trees, including late-fruited longan, plum, mango, lemon and pomelo. Already 50 km of fodder grass lines and 20,000 trees have been planted by the community. Households that are already participating can see the reduction in soil erosion on their land and individual households can now support extra cattle. Other members of the community want to join the project in the second year after seeing these benefits.

Project team and community at Na Ban. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.
For agroforestry to be most profitable for farmers in the long term there needs to be markets for all the products that can be produced. Therefore, the researchers need to engage the private sector to facilitate the development of such markets. The AFLi project has gained some early success working with the private sector to develop new markets for the H’Mong apple (Son Tra).

TAFOOD processing factory at Bắc Yên. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.
Phytochemical screening of Son Tra fruit identified substances such as polyphenol, tannin, saponin, organic acid, amino acid, and reducing sugar, which are essential to human nutrition. Research was conducted on the preparation of semi-finished Son Tra products (water extract/gel) for use in instant tea and other products. A collaboration has been developed with TAFOOD, a Tea Export Processing Company that operates in Sơn La Province. This company supports the local H’Mong people and pays high prices to them for producing high quality products (such as Shan Tea and temperate fruits) which are processed in the company’s factory located near Bắc Yên. The company managers have said that the flavour variability of wild-harvested Son Tra currently limits their ability to develop high value products and indicated that they are willing to buy all the Son Tra produced from 10 hectare clonal plantings in the villages the project is supporting.
TAFOOD processing factory at Bắc Yên. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.
Overall, the future looks very bright for the expansion of agroforestry in north-western Vietnam and ACIAR is currently working on the design of the second phase of this project.

By Dr Tony Bartlett, Forestry Research Program Manager, ACIAR

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