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ABSTRACT

Vietnam is highly vulnerable to climate change, and those most severely affected tend to be members of ethnic minority groups living in poverty in marginalized areas. This paper focuses on the Tay, Dao, and Hmong ethnic minorities the Northern Mountainous Region (NMR) of the country, and employs a mixed-method qualitative approach to assess their adaptation to a changing climate in the region as a case study. The NMR is the poorest area of Vietnam, and each of these ethnic minority groups was found to be both vulnerable and adapt in different ways. Results show that adaptation strategies faced considerable barriers, often directly influenced by gender, age, ethnicity, wealth, and location. Many locally-employed coping strategies were also found to be conditional on the strength and foresight (or futility and the lack of foresight) of institutions and policymakers on the local, regional, and central levels. While local knowledge and social capital did ease pressures, policy failures more typically led to mal-adaptation and welfare dependence. Improving not only the quality but also the focus of and access to government resources would considerably enhance the capacity for communities to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.

1.  Introduction

Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change (Dasgupta et al. 2007; MONRE 2016). The current state of exposure to climate impacts is best assessed by looking at past effects of climate-related disasters. For example, in Vietnam between 1953 and 2010, nearly 25,000 people were killed by natural disasters and 77 million were negatively affected in some way (World Bank 2010). Human losses to extreme weather events can serve as a reliable indicator of vulnerability to climate change (Patt et al. 2010). Key concerns associated with climate change in the Northern Mountainous Region (NMR) of Vietnam are drought in the dry season (winter); soil erosion, landslides, and flooding in the rainy season (summer); and changing temperature regimes such as additional cold spells (ISPONRE 2009; MONRE 2016). Experiences of climate variability, manifested in the increased length and frequency of droughts, floods and cold spells, have increased the existing vulnerability of local communities. In recent years, a succession of crises precipitated by severe droughts (2009, 2010) and cold spells (2008, 2011) has led to widespread crop failure and livestock death, which in turn has forced large numbers of people to seek off-farm employment as laborers (Author 2013; Delisle and Turner 2016).

This study uses the Northern Mountainous Region (NMR) of Vietnam as a case study of adaptation to climate change. Every year in Vietnam the NMR is threatened by typhoons, storms, and landslides in the rainy season or drought in the dry  season (Delisle and Turner 2016). In the NMR, agricultural crops are particularly vulnerable to climate incidents, as demonstrated by recent flooding, long periods of unusually cold weather in 2008 and 2011, and drought in many years. Climate change projections pre- dicted that under most future scenarios Vietnam will have millions of people who will need to cope with these increased hazards (MONRE 2016). In addition to climate change, rural communities are vulnerable to multiple interacting stresses including food insecurity, rising inequality, limited access to government services, and environmental degradation (Chaudhry and Ruysschaert 2007; World Bank 2010; Author 2013). This study seeks to better understand as a case study how marginalized communities in the NMR adapt to and might be emboldened with the resources and agency to better adapt to climate change.

Adaptation in the context of climate change consists of adjustments in practices, pro- cesses, or structures performed in response to the actuality or threat of long-term climate change and leading to an evolving change in state (IPCC 2007). In this paper, adaptation is understood as a set of strategies and actions taken in reaction to or in anticipation of change by people to enhance or maintain their well-being; where well-being is used as the surrogate of community resilience from a local perspective. Climate change coping and adaptation strategies fall into three main categories. They include the diversification of livelihoods, the application of locally based knowledge of resource systems, and the use of existing and extending social networks to share risks (Goulden et al. 2009).

More generally, this study explores how communities in the past adapted to climate pressures and how they were able to increase their adaptive capacity. It focuses on the responses to specific climate shocks in the NMR in order to distill lessons for future adap- tation. While it is impossible to quantify to what degree the climate shocks and stresses now being experienced are the direct results of climate change, recent studies reveal  that such shocks and stresses will increase (e.g. IPCC 2012). It is therefore essential that human responses to these current events are studied. Furthermore, as climate change con- tinues and accelerates, humans are transitioning into novel biophysical conditions where knowledge of the past will not always predictably guide what can be expected in the future, or even provide meaningful historical context on how to mitigate it. However, in this  study, it is assumed that extreme events in the past are analogous to what will likely happen in the future, at least in the short- to medium-term, and that as a result humanity needs to learn from past coping strategies for climate variability and weather extremes to better adapt to future climate change (Ford et al. 2006). Examining experience and response to climate variability, change, and extremes can provide an empirical foundation for characterizing how communities manage and experience climate-related risks; identi- fying processes and conditions which determine the efficacy, availability, and success of adaptation; establishing a range of possible societal responses to future change; and helping identify barriers to adaptation (Smit and Wandel 2006; Ford et al. 2007; Ford et al. 2008). Barriers to adaptation are likely to be important in determining vulnerability and adaptability to future change (Ford 2009).

 1.1.   Study areas

The NMR has been selected as the focus of this study. Given the place-based and localized impacts of climate change, the study did not attempt to cover the entire NMR, but rather provides a detailed and focused case study of the Nam Mau Commune in the Ba Be Dis- trict of Bac Kan Province (Figure 1).

The NMR is home to 31 out of 54 officially recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam, account- ing for more than 50% of the total population of the area. These include the Tay, Thai, Nung, Dao, and Hmong. Each group speaks different native languages belonging to several distinct linguistic branches such as Viet-Muong, Thai-Tay, or Hmong-Dao (Dien 2002; Son and Thuy 2005). Each group differs widely in ways of generating income, in kinship, in the com- plexity and manifestation of social organization, and in the degree and nature of their assim- ilation into Vietnamese society. In the NMR, ethnic minority distribution is divided into three sub-regions, usually based on elevation. The Muong, Thai, Tay and Nung live in the lower altitudes; the Dao live in the middle altitudes, and the Hmong live in the highest alti- tudes (Dien 2002; Vien 2003). Therefore, among the three ethnic minorities in this study, the Tay live in mountain valleys, practice paddy rice agriculture, have comparatively higher lit- eracy rates, and perhaps most importantly, are viewed by the Kinh (i.e. the ethnic Vietna- mese) as being the most advanced of the various minority groups. The Dao and Hmong live in scattered and more inaccessible settlements, have lower literacy rates, and are often negatively perceived by the Kinh and Tay as being culturally inferior.

Six villages of three ethnic groups in Nam Mau Commune were selected for this study. Pac Ngoi and Ban Cam are Tay villages. Their location on the shore of the lake and on the wide alluvial plain is favorable for both agriculture and fishing, but is also disadvanta- geous because of annual floods which often destroy food crops. Almost all households in 

 

Figure 1. A map of the study location. 

Pac Ngoi and Ban Cam are engaged in agriculture. Some also have additional sources of non-farm income. Boat driving, the running of tourist guesthouses, and jobs in the commune administration provide some of the families with a daily or monthly cash income.

Na Nghe and Na Vai are Dao villages. They lie on sloping land around terraced rice fields. The residents of Na Nghe are now resettled inside the strict protection zone of   the Ba Be National Park. Na Vai Village was formed in the late 1950s and is located in the buffer zone of the Ba Be National Park. Therefore, the two villages have different socio-economic statuses. Na Vai has better access to local markets, other parts of the commune, and the district center and thus it has more opportunities to develop off-    farm income activities.

Khau Qua and Nam Dai are two Hmong villages of Nam Mau Commune. Nam Dai is located at the altitudes 700–800 m asl. The village is surrounded by terraced rice fields and paddy rice at the bottom of the hill. Nam Dai is located at 500–600 m asl. Both villages are located within the boundary of the Ba Be National Park, far from main roads and the commune center. Their livelihoods derive mainly from paddy rice grown at the hill bottom, upland cultivation, cattle rearing, and the gathering of forest products. A few households earn some off-farm income from carpentry and cattle trading. 

2.  Research methods

2.1.   Case study

At the core of the empirical portion of this article stands the case study of six village com- munities in the northern mountain district of Ba Be, Bac Kan Province. Place-based case studies are considered to be central to climate change research (Ford et al. 2008; Ford et al. 2010). Climate change provides a good example of a complex social-ecological system problem for which place-specific case studies and participatory methodologies are particu- larly suitable (Berkes and Jolly 2001). Such studies can illuminate how different factors, at different scales, can interact and affect the ability of households and even different individ- uals within households to cope and adapt (Eriksen, Brown, and Kelly 2005). Therefore, the case study approach provides an appropriate means of exploring coping and vulnerability (Yin 2003; Eriksen, Brown, and Kelly 2005). 

2.2.   Data collection strategy

Prior to conducting the main survey, 50 in-depth interviews were organized with repre- sentatives of the different social and economic groups identified in Bac Kan Province  and Ba Be District in order to obtain a first impression of people’s experiences with natural disasters, weather extremes, climate variability, and environmental change. The respondents in these interviews comprised members of the People’s Committee, Commu- nist Party officials, members of the district administration, village heads, merchants, and key farmers. Guided by the responses of these interviews, a first questionnaire was devel- oped. This questionnaire was tested and continuously developed through pre-tests with a total of 40 completed face-to-face interviews in one village. Finally, the main survey was conducted on the basis of the revised questionnaire in six villages within Ba Be District using a baseline survey, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions. The total number of people visited at home or in the field was 237. Their ages ranged from 18 to

76. The number of female respondents was 72 (30.4%). 

2.3.   Data collection methods

A range of techniques was employed in order to generate information, to triangulate insights, and to build up an accurate and detailed picture of the dynamics of adaptation at both household and community levels. The techniques used included a baseline survey, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and community workshops (e.g. village meetings), and participant observation. Secondary data was obtained from existing stat- istical sources, published academic and consultancy work, internal documentation from governmental and non-governmental organizations, and policy documents. 

2.3.1.  Baseline survey

A baseline survey was carried out in the six village communities as a method to become acquainted with the local people and their livelihood contexts. A questionnaire was used to facilitate data collection of basic household characteristics such as household economy, agricultural production systems utilized, and membership in village organizations. Initially, the households for the baseline survey were chosen randomly. Later, a sub- sample was selected based on socio-economic indicators such as housing conditions  and location of the household in the village.

The interview climate for the baseline survey was informal and time was allocated for further conversation and questions from respondents. Of the total number of 284 house- holds in the six villages, 237 households were visited and interviewed (more specifically by village, Pac Ngoi 80% or 64 households, Ban Cam 80% or 58 households, Khau Qua 90% or 32 households, Nam Dai 100% or 19 households, Na Nghe 100% or 20 households, and Na Vai 80% or 44 households). For most villagers, this was not the first time they had answered questions, as government and development organizations frequently conduct surveys in their communities. 

2.3.2.  Interviews

In-depth, semi-structured interviews with community members were conducted in all study villages to identify ongoing climate-related risks and to provide insights into how these risks are experienced and managed. The language used during the interviews was Vietnamese. All of the Tay and Dao people could speak Vietnamese well, with the excep- tion of a few elderly respondents. All the Hmong men, but only a few women, could speak Vietnamese well. Therefore, in some cases, the village head or head of the family being interviewed helped with translation. The interviews were transcribed and coded according to themes.

From the baseline survey and the interactions with the villagers, a sample of key respon- dents was established and they were subsequently interviewed in more detail. Key respon- dents were village and commune leaders, in office or retired, and were predominantly middle-aged and elderly men. An exception was the chairwomen of the  Women’s Union and a number of school teachers, who were chosen with respect to their knowledge and understanding of local issues. Both village and commune leaders were either met at home or in their offices in the commune center. The second group of key respondents comprised government officials and development experts at the district and provincial levels. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with local villagers in either their homes or agricultural fields. 

2.3.3.  Focus group discussion

Focus groups were conducted to gather information regarding climate hazards, impacts, and adaptation practices, and to tease out the role of community and group identity in adaptation choices. These focus groups were constituted from the most vulnerable groups in the communities and included the poor, women, youth, children, the landless, the elderly, and migrants. Both small and large focus groups were conducted in each study village. 18 small focus group discussions of 7–10 people were conducted, focusing on vul- nerable groups including women, households in poverty, and households with agriculture as their only source of income. In addition, 6 large focus group discussions in the form of village meetings were conducted at the end of fieldwork in the communities. 

2.4.   Data analysis

Data were analyzed with a variety of different tools. For qualitative data, writing memos or notes helped prevent the loss of many relevant impressions, spontaneous ideas, evalu- ations, solutions, and thoughts during data collection. Data management and statistical packages, including Excel and SPSS, were used to process primary quantitative data col- lected from household surveys. Counts, percentages, means, and tables were used for pre- senting summary research results. 

3.  Results

3.1.   Impacts of climatic risks in the study area

This study uses drought, flood, and cold snaps as the three foci for assessing the possible impacts of climate change on households and communities. They each have different impacts on local communities and elicit different responses. While drought  and flood  are related to hydrological factors, cold snaps are related to temperature variables. The choice of these factors as examples permits the investigation of how households and com- munities have responded to recent climatically-driven stress events, and provides a basis to explore what determines their adaptation responses.

 3.1.1.  Impacts of drought

Drought had substantial impacts on food production and local livelihoods. In the case study area, drought caused rice yield losses of 50% to 100%, depending on the proximity of rice fields to water sources. For example, the 2009 and 2010 drought economically affected 100% of the households in Dao and Hmong villages. Several Tay households were not badly affected as they had good non-farm income sources to mitigate economic effects. Drought impacts on crops and livestock put poorer households at risk of hunger and returned them to higher rates of poverty. To cope with food shortage, many people consumed smaller portions and substituted vegetables for meat. This means that malnu- trition among children is unavoidable.

As one village head reported,

We eat mainly rice or maize with vegetables. We did not have meat as before as the poultry we keep had to be sold to purchase food or household items. We had to save money simply for basic food, not to buy or eat meat as before.

A poor farmer expressed a similar situation resulting from drought, “My children did not have food of the quality or quantity as before. They had no choice but to eat smaller por- tions, and very little meat.”

Due to financial difficulties as a consequence of drought, many children, especially among the Hmong, were forced to stay home to help their families. This included searching for wild plants and animals that could be sold or eaten. During the school year, a local teacher reported that only 60% of children attend school as the others were needed at home to look after their younger brothers and sisters, thereby allowing their parents to find wage- paying seasonal work. Many families also had to withdraw their children from school to ease the financial burden. For example, the children of four families in Khau Qua Village and two in Nam Dai Village were required to stay home after finishing elementary  due  to financial difficulties resulting from the impacts of severe drought.

3.1.2.  Impacts of oods

In the case study communities, floods directly or indirectly (e.g. through triggering land- slides) damaged residential structures. Rather than property damage however, livelihood disruption was said to comprise the most problematic issue for local communities. Due to their location, all Tay villages in the Nam Mau Commune, including the two case study communities, experience near-annual crop loss or damage. Floods destroy crops, cause landslides, inundate rice fields, and overflow fish ponds. As a direct consequence of floods in 2008, 76 out of 79 households in Pac Ngoi Village (Tay) (about 95%) and 67 out of 75 households in Ban Cam Village (Tay) (about 90%) suffered crop and livestock losses. In addition to negative economic effects, floods also cause other social problems including health risks linked to water contamination and malnutrition caused by crop failure. For example, this study found that 45 out of 76 Tay households in the Pac Ngoi and 50 Tay households in the Ban Cam villages suffered from water contamination as the result of flooding. The remaining households were safe from water contamination   as their houses were built at higher locations in the steeply sloped mountains. Malnutrition is also quite common among the children, especially of poor families in the NMR, and crop failures due to flooding only exacerbate the problem.

 3.1.3.  Impacts of cold snap

Nam Mau lost 32 head of cattle due to a cold spell in 2008 and 15 head in 2011. The total cattle loss of Ba Be District recorded in the district report in 2008 and 2011 was 2,000 and 1,300 head respectively (Ba Be Office of Statistics 2018). Therefore, the cattle loss in Nam Mau can be considered as small when compared with neighboring communes. The primary reasons for cattle deaths can be connected to both biophysical and social-cultural factors. First, the location of the villages, that is their physical geographies, matters. Those at higher altitudes, inhabited by the Dao and Hmong, experienced more intense cold weather. Second, the social-cultural factors relate to ethnicity and related farming prac- tices. For example, the Dao have more cattle and often practice free-range grazing. As a consequence, the Dao villages experienced a higher loss of cattle. For the poor in rural households in the NMR, cattle are the family’s most valuable asset. Thus, cattle mortality represents a significant problem for families. Many households have to borrow money from banks or relatives to buy cattle, so if their cattle die, they face difficulties repaying their loans. Indeed, this study found that 15% of Dao and Hmong households had to borrow money from the social bank (i.e. bank for the poor) and relatives to purchase cattle. Only few Tay households borrowed money to buy cattle as they  had  more money and options to earn money elsewhere.

 3.2.   Adaptation to climate risks in the case study villages

3.2.1.  Income and livelihood diversication

The rural poor in Vietnam, as in other countries in the Global South, are often the first to be affected by weather extremes and climate variability, and are likely to be more affected by climate change (Chaudhry and Ruysschaert 2007). Given that the poor are the most vulnerable to disruptive shocks and trends such as climate-related disasters and climate change, building their resilience requires an understanding of how their livelihoods are constructed. The biophysical conditions of the mountain environment have encouraged the mountain communities, including Tay, Dao, and Hmong people, to adopt livelihood diversification strategies (Table 1). The livelihoods of households in all six research sites are based on mountain agriculture. For the majority of households in Ba Be District, mountain agriculture is their main source of income and sustenance. Farming practices have been adapted to the mountain conditions and have shaped the environment to match livelihood requirements, as new fields were opened in the forests, hill faces were terraced, or fruit and forest tree plantations established.

The study found that Tay households earn more off-farm income than the Dao and Hmong. Non-farm income sources include wage income, self-employment, and remit- tances. They also have more diverse income sources to rely on in times of need. This reflects the fact that the Tay live near the commune centers and main roads, and are more fully integrated into the larger mainstream economy. Households across the NMR are often required to sell cattle and livestock to buy rice and food when crops fail. This highlights the primary role of cattle as an economic safety net in times of crisis. Of the Dao and Hmong people interviewed, 90% exclaimed that selling cattle was used as a

 Table 1. Income sources in the study villages and ethnic groups.

 Study villages and approximate proportion of income (%)

 

Pac Ngoi

Ban Cam

Na Nghe

Na Vai

Khau Qua

Nam Dai

Income source

(Tay)

(Tay)

(Dao)

(Dao)

(Hmong)

(Hmong)

Crops

35

35

40

35

60

70

Livestock

20

20

35

35

20

15

Forest

0

0

20

20

15

10

Non-farm

30

35

5

10

5

5

Others

15

10

0

0

0

0

Total

100

100

100

100

100

100

Source: Field survey (2018).

solution to deal with the impacts of the drought in 2009. Selling cattle can help households generate income to purchase food. It also helped some households to reduce the size of their cattle herd when fodder became scarce. It is also interesting to note that only 20% of Tay people interviewed said that they have had to sell livestock due to shortages of fodder and forage. This is because, on average, the Tay have fewer heads of livestock than the Dao or Hmong and more diverse income generation opportunities.

Seeking wage work within and outside their community is common in the case study area, and often incorporates patterns of temporal migration. Common opportunities locally consist of employment as carpenters, bricklayers, or day laborers. A smaller number of people, mainly Tay youths, regularly seek wage work away from their home villages. Seeking opportunities away from the home village to diversify and secure liveli- hoods in an attempt to limit risks or increase the income of rural households is also common in other countries (Mortreux and  Barnett 2009). Despite this, opportunities   for off-farm work remain very limited, particularly for the Dao and Hmong. These two groups typically have lower levels of education, and many (especially women) are illiterate. Overall, the Dao and Hmong were found to have far fewer connections outside their com- munities than the Tay, who benefit from their close relationship with the dominant Kinh group in the lowland. This has hampered the ability of the Dao and Hmong to secure off- farm work outside their village or commune. In this study, 50% of Hmong men and 90% of Hmong women (over the age of 20) were illiterate. All Hmong men could speak Vietna- mese but were illiterate. Of the Dao respondents, 30% of men and 50% of women (over the age of 20) were illiterate. The low educational levels hamper their capacity to find wage work outside of their communities. More than 90% of Tay people can read and write Viet- namese properly. The Tay also often reside in lower elevation areas with the Kinh, and thus are better connected and integrated into the market economy. 

3.2.2.  Forest harvesting

This study found that the utilization of both timber and non-timber forest products pro- vides a safety net and income for many households. For most Dao and Hmong, income from forests accounted for 10–20% of their total household income (Table 1). They harvest wild fruits (e.g. Canarium and Dracontomelon), medicinal plants, and other non-timber forest products (e.g. honey) to sell to traders. Some Tay people harvest herbal plants to sell to tourists who often stay in their villages. Forest products are extracted most during the off-peak crop season. Likewise, in times of crisis where drought or flood destroy crops and reduce household income, forest extraction increases significantly. Children and elderly people collect non-timber forest products regularly. Stronger youth cut timber and hunt animals illegally to sell to traders. This highlights  the importance of the sale of forest products as a form of “natural insurance” for commu- nities in the NMR. However, increased forest extraction in times of crisis also means  increased pressure on the forests, which deepens conflicts between local communities and forest protection agencies as well as impacts adversely on environmental services. Under forest protection laws, communities living inside or near protection forests and special-use forests such as national parks or nature reserves have only very limited legal access to the non-timber forest products they contain. Due to the limited economic oppor- tunities and options in mountainous areas, local communities, especially the poor, see forest extraction including illegal timber logging as a “viable” livelihood alternative. In this sense, authorities at both the village and commune levels often shield their constitu- ents from forest protection authorities whenever possible. 

3.2.3.  Using social networks and linkages

Seeking help from relatives and neighbors is an important coping strategy in times of crisis. This study found that social cohesion, kinship, and social networks are strong in the rural areas of the NMR. These social networks are further tightened by the prolifer- ation of local and non-governmental organizations and alumni associations. As a result, social capital is higher in the north due to the high rate of village endogamy and the pro- liferation of non-governmental organizations (Luong 2003). Nearly everyone in every village studied were related to each other in some way, on either the husband’s or wife’s side. Seeking help from relatives and neighbors is an effective mechanism to deal with idio- syncratic shocks such as the illness of a family member, accidents, or funeral costs. However, it is less effective for covariate shocks such as drought or flood where many  or all households within a community or an area are affected simultaneously. Under  such circumstances, households may be forced to rely on self-insurance strategies that are particularly costly in terms of current and future welfare (Skoufias 2003). For example, malnutrition due to dietary adjustment has long-term consequences for the future welfare of children (Martorell 1999).

This emphasizes the importance of institutional support for cumulative effects. It also means ouseholds who have strong linkages and networks outside their community are more likely to cope with shocks by asking for help from those living outside the disaster area. In many cases, respondents noted that they could not ask for assistance from neigh- bors as they also faced the same problems. Again, during major shocks, social networks offer limited relief and are rapidly exhausted, because the providers of assistance might belong to equally poor households or even be exposed to the same livelihood risks or shocks (Devereux 1999). As a consequence, some had to borrow from private lenders at high interest rates, and in so doing, became even more vulnerable to future hazard events. Social capital available in a local community for dealing with flood risk includes social bonds with neighbors, relatives, friends, and other larger organizations. It increases the responsiveness of local institutions such as village committees for flood and storm control (VCFSC), commune committees for flood and storm control (CCFSC),  or larger organizations (e.g. Youth Union). A crisis usually led to the mobilization of organ- izations at all levels. The village and commune organizations become more active in orga- nizing mutual support to help households. Pre-existing larger organizations effectively mobilize people to help each other build or repair houses, and villagers held numerous public meetings to establish ways of coping with the crisis after disastrous floods. 

 

3.2.4.  Farmers requesting to be classied as being poor

Discussions with village and commune leaders and extension officials revealed that many households were “fighting to be poor” in order to obtain government support. Currently, many government programs such as Programme 135 target only the poorest households. Households classified as average or above are not eligible to receive support. As a result, many households with average or above-average income are not happy with this policy, and argue that the actual differences between the “poor” and the “not poor” households are not substantial. 

Households that are formally classified as being “poor” are eligible for many government support schemes, including access to credit, production support, and financial assistance for their children’s education. Many average income households were found to pressure village heads, who have a strong voice in household poverty assessment. Village heads in the study communities therefore found it very difficult to satisfy the villagers. They also expressed concern that “The implementation of pro-poor support programs is damaging community cohesion and solidarity by causing conict between groups.” For example, in some cases household members of extended families were trying to cooperate to vote for their family or to out-vote members of another family. In many cases, commune officials had to inter- vene in this process, but it was rarely easy or successful. The main problem is that the current approach of government support for the poor has decreased their self-reliance, in effect causing them to rely on or wait for government support. 

3.2.5.  Using local and traditional knowledge

In agricultural production, local knowledge-based responses include using local drought- resistant crops and switching from rice to other cash crops. For example, Tay people in Pac Ngoi and Ban Cam often used Bao Thai, a local rice variety, as a winter crop as it is cold- hardy and drought-resistant. Dao and Hmong people also grew their local crops such as Hmong peas, Hmong maize, or soybean at upland farms as these crops do not require much water. In addition, the use of bamboo pipes for moving water for irrigation or home use provides an example of an effective adaptation strategy. Bamboo pipes have been used for generations in the NMR to transfer water from a water source to a farm field or water tank for home use. The use of bamboo pipes helps farmers to irrigate   their upland terraced rice fields as well as save time and energy for collecting water.

This study also found the use of local knowledge and experience to adapt to floods.

Based on their knowledge and experience, farmers altered planting dates and times, and used local varieties to suit changing conditions. In the case study area, the Tay people   in both Pac Ngoi and Ban Cam villages have altered planting times to avoid floods. In addition, they have learned to modify their behavior and their environment to manage and take advantage of their local climatic conditions. Returning to the above example   of Bao Thai rice, local people were found to prepare rice seedlings in upland farms during the flooding time so they can transplant rice seedlings immediately following   the receding of flood water. In addition, many Tay people in Pac Ngoi Village have  built two-story houses  to avoid  the floods, using the living memories of the elders  about the “heaviest” flood in 1968. By building two-story houses, when floods occur pre- viously harvested rice, furniture, and other household items can be transported upstairs. They are also able to live upstairs during the flooding season. These examples illustrate the importance of local knowledge and experience for communities in the NMR of Vietnam in coping with and adapting to climate change impacts. 

4.  Discussion

4.1.   Livelihood diversication and resilience

This study has found that livelihood diversification has been the main strategy adopted for living with climate variability and other stressors in the Ba Be area. The local population cultivates staple crops predominantly for their own consumption, but some also sell a pro- portion of what they produce. Agriculture and animal husbandry generate approximately two-thirds of their cash income, and non-farm sources such as wage income, self-employ- ment, and remittances generate the remainder.

Livelihood diversification has been recognized as having the potential to alleviate poverty as well as reduce vulnerability to shocks (Ellis 1998). It involves a range of liveli- hood activities and includes aspects of flexibility in livelihoods over time and space and the mobility of people (Goulden et al. 2009). Livelihood diversification includes farm and non- farm diversification, and other natural resource access diversification. The diversity of an economic portfolio can give greater flexibility to households for adjusting to change. In general, the biophysical factors of the mountainous environment have encouraged the Tay, Dao, and Hmong people to adopt multiple livelihood strategies and a variety of different agricultural production methods to support their subsistence. However, better and average income groups have more off-farm income, which comes from wage work and operating small businesses (e.g. providing transport services). Households with higher incomes have more opportunities to dominate the most lucrative rural non-farm activities (Ellis and Mdoe 2003). Households with more off-farm income are often less vul- nerable to climate and other changes; in other words, they can cope better with shocks, whether drought, flood, or cold. Thus, enhancing access to resources and capacity building for the poorest groups is important for coping with climate and other stresses. Providing support for the poor in developing off-farm income activities also helps to reduce inequal- ity in rural communities where households with more off-farm income have much higher total household incomes than those with no or less off-farm income.

Support for the poorest groups needs to focus on both capital and management skills,

for which the latter requires a long-term strategy for using capital effectively. During inter- views, respondents often raised concerns over their lack of capital, management skills, and the information necessary to develop off-farm income activities. For example, Tay house- holds living near to Ba Be Lake could provide boat or/and guesthouse services for tourists. However, only a few households can afford to purchase a boat and/or to build a guest- house, because the cost of a boat was about US$2,000 and that of a guesthouse near

$6,000. These are very large sums, beyond the capacity of most households to raise. In addition, people who run the guesthouse service also have strong social networks and lin- kages with other members inside and outside their community. Their strong networks and linkages help them gain access to information and other resources which in turn keep their business operating smoothly. &l

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