During my role at the Center for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD), an NGO supporting sustainable development, while alleviating inequality and poverty, I have opportunities to work for the balance of Environment and Society of the most vulnerable groups in Vietnam, from poor women, ethnic groups, children and people with disabilities. One of our longest and most difficult projects is “Agricultural Conservation and Coping with Climate Change in Rural Areas”. This long-term project mainly focuses on addressing serious environmental pollution, poverty and potential risks of Climate Change in rural areas in Vietnam.
Context and Reason
In Vietnam, the rural area accounts for 75% of the country’s area and about 60% of the employees working in the agricultural sector. Vietnam, moreover, is a coastal country, which is an important border gate of the Asian mainland area. This is a country with a coastline of more than 3000km. Our agriculture is mainly wet rice, concentrated in coastal areas and low plains. If climate change becomes more serious, these areas will suffer firstly. This means that 75% of Vietnamese area will be affected negatively; Agriculture, a key economic sector of our country will be affected negatively and 60% of my country’s employee will be affected negatively. Therefore, I focus on solving the problem of rural areas. These are key areas, also the vulnerable areas. Rural environmental pollution entails dangerous diseases for rural people, affecting the economy and social secure, increasing the risk of climate change.
Cause of Pollution
Because of the poor infrastructure conditions and greatly influence of traditional customs and backward habits, the rural living environment have been adversely affected. People are not aware of environmental protection, so cattle breeding is free, cattle manure is scattered around the house and along the road. These make unpleasant smell, especially in hot and dry weather, like summer. Then, the rain washes these animal manure away, polluting the water source. Also, people may capture cattle under the floor, then the animal manure seriously pollutes the living environment of family members. In addition, poor temporary toilets are made near the house, leaving unpleasant smell. The rain washes these human feces away, polluting water sources and generating flies and mosquitoes, causing disease and sickness, such as intestinal diseases, eye pain, respiratory infections, cancer… for many rural people.
In addition, farmers use all kinds of toxic chemicals in agriculture (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, fertilizer…). After spraying these toxic chemicals, farmers often wash pump bottles and pour redundant chemical waste in anywhere, even the water sources. The packaging and bottles containing toxic chemicals are discarded around the house, around ditches or on fields. That has directly affected the daily water source and is a premise for arising diseases that farmers cannot immediately recognize. In addition, in rural areas, waste is not collected and classified, people are free to dispose of waste (agricultural bags, dead animals, household waste products…) into their surrounding environment, plus the scattered animal and poultry manure, makes the environment more polluted.
If there is no proper method of capturing, collecting and processing animal manure and agricultural waste, the problem of environmental pollution in rural areas will be more and more serious. Therefore, we need a thorough and systematic solution to deal with every problem that the rural environment and rural people are facing.
To solve the problem of agricultural chemicals abuse, our NGO has implemented and organized many technical training courses on ecological agriculture such as SRI method (System of Rice Intensification), an eco-farming method which bring high efficiency and productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on technical impacts to reduce input costs such as seed, fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation water. We also organized training activities of utilizing agricultural by-products for composting organic fertilizers, guiding farmers and students to make bio-pesticides from biological by-products. In the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam, we taugh people on how to make pesticides from green fungi, which can kill brown hoppers and white aphids in rice plants. In addition, in the future, we plan to carry out many lobbying activities, directly linking with the government authorities, the Plant Protection Department and the environmental police to continuously monitor the input of agriculture, thoroughly eliminate and completely remove toxic chemicals in irrigated agricultural sector.
Regarding air pollution by animal manure, our NGO has jointly researched the methods of raising chickens on biological pads, making probiotics in biological pads, raising earthworms to deodorize animal manure and raise chickens (earthworms can also be used as a source of food for poultry and cattle because of high protein content) and then organized training classes for more than 140 farming communes in Vietnam, accounting for 56% of rural areas nationwide. Farmers of our project were able to make their own probiotics from yeast to actively deodorize animal manure and make biological pads in chicken farming.
In addition, our organization also disseminates smart watering systems, intensive chicken farming systems, and advanced livestock farming systems for farmers. However, due to limited financial conditions, not many rural households can apply.
Moreover, when there are no financial conditions and when immediate profits or quantity are not seen yet, farmers often have no incentive to implement these systems. We can overcome this by credit funds, village funds and financial support for rural people. In addition, it is possible to apply a cooperative model. It means many households and individuals in the commune contribute money, labor days and materials to build a smart breeding and irrigation system. The quantity and profit is divided by the amount of effort and captital contributed.
As a project officer who has worked in this project for a long time, I think we should also have more activities that contribute to building society, life and economy for rural areas comprehensively through agriculture. One thing that I have proposed and definitely pursue is that: Besides disseminate and introduce new varieties of rice that are adaptable to climate change, we could research, develop and preserve the local varieties of rice. It contributes to preserving the local tradition. In Vietnam, we have more than 50 rice varieties, feature and symbol for more than 20 different rural areas. Some of them are currently disappear gradually because of the changing weather conditions. Climate Change cause saline intrusion, therefore rice varieties are unable to resist water and salinity. Therefore, research, improvement and development to maintain and protect these rice varieties is very important to preserve the local identity and brand of Vietnamese rice.
In my opinion, environmental and social issues must be thoroughly addressed by scientific and technological advances. In Vietnam, a country that has not strong education, the propaganda, education, mobilization in rural areas have been implemented for decades before but not effective. Since Vietnam joined international organizations, the relationship network becomes much stronger, science and technology has been introduced into our country, making environmental and social problems really improved. Therefore, I boldly propose that all root issues of the environment and society must be implemented from research and development of Science and technology.
Nguyen Ngoc Huyen, Vietnam, ASEAN Youth Exchange 2019 delegates & Environmental Activist and Youth Leader