As I get closer and closer to my field placement in Vietnam, I’ve been doing more research and trying to find as much information on the Center for Sustainable Rural Development as possible. And I came across this site that discusses one of the projects that was implemented by SRD. I chose to use a lot of its information for a paper for one of my classes. So read on, and share your opinion. Is the System of Rice Intensification a potential solution for food insecurity?
Food Security in Vietnam
Food security is a global problem that plagues nations in the Global South and the Global North, it can be achieved when ‘all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life,’ as defined by the World Bank (Potter, Binns, Elliot, & Smith, 2008, p. 211). Achieving food security is a difficult task for many nations that may not have long enough growing seasons, may be affected by natural disasters or unseasonable weather, that are faced with balancing imports and exports, with unequal land ownership rights, and that may be affected by rising costs of production and food sales – all these factors can cause a larger ripple effect and can either make food unaffordable, or unavailable, thereby decreasing food security. Understanding food security goes beyond simple food production; it is about the availability and affordability of adequate food to each person regardless of their income or status. This concept has been best described by Amartya Sen, “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat” (Potter, Binns, Elliot, & Smith, 2008, p. 211). Yet, food security is inherently linked to development as when people are food secure they are better able to increase productivity, perform better in school, and live longer, healthier lives.
Vietnam is a nation that has been affected by numerous factors changing national food security, but is also in a unique position to effectively combat national food insecurity through interventions done by the government, non-governmental organization, and grassroots organizations. Through national economic reform and the intensification of crops, Vietnam has been able to decrease food insecurity and drastically increase production. Currently, sixty-two percent of Vietnam’s population relies on agriculture (subsistence and otherwise) for their livelihoods, yet eleven percent of the population remains undernourished and twenty-five percent of children are malnourished (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2011). These are staggering statistics for a country that produces and exports some of the highest rice yields in the world and therefore has the capacity and resources to provide adequate food for its population. Since 1986, Vietnam has been under the ‘doi moi’ policy, or ‘renovation’ policy, which has been revamping their economic policies and structures for global competition and to aid in the economic and human development of the nation (Painter, 2003). This policy has been adapted and changed as the global economy has changed and has determined the patterns of imports and exports, which plays into how Vietnam has been adapting to the 2008 economic crisis and working towards improving food security for its population. Renovation policy has shifted Vietnam into a market-based economy that is becoming more and more diversified and stable.
Globally, 2008 was a critical year for food insecurity, causing widespread raises in food costs, declining employment rates, and damaging global economies – Vietnam was not immune. The 2008 economic crisis hit Vietnam at a critical time, damaging the economy that was previously growing at an unprecedented nine percent (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 1). During this time in Vietnam, inflation soared past twenty-five percent and food prices doubled (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 2)making food unaffordable and unavailable to much of Vietnam’s population. In response, the government decreased food exports and brought additional resources to state-owned agricultural businesses and community agricultural initiatives, this intervention allowed for the influx of resources in a key sector, ensured employment for the population, and ensured a surplus of food, which would drive prices down in turn (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 7). The government has also been focusing on increasing the rates of population attaining education which they believe will increase future production and decrease future food insecurity and poverty.
System of Rice Intensification
An intervention by non-governmental organizations and grassroots organizations has also aided in the battle against food insecurity – crop intensification. This intervention is often described as the System of Rice Intensification also Sustainable Rise Intensification or SRI and involves using ‘younger seedlings, single plant transplantation, wider spacing of plants, water drainage, and frequent weeding” (SRI in Vietnam, 2008)this process was developed to increase crop yields while decreasing crop inputs such as water, seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides/herbicides (SRI in Vietnam, 2008). In developing and rolling out SRI, organizations are also met with the challenges of providing additional inputs to rural farmers and small communities for initial input. These methods involve changing communities historical ways of thinking and farming and have a heavy reliance on education and continued workshops and follow-up. However, with consistent use they have been proven to increase annual incomes by seventy USD per farmer and cut hands-on time spent farming by fifty percent (srivietnam, 2010).
What is key about SRI is that crops are more resilient, rely on less resources, and are of a higher quality than crops grown in traditional methods, by adopting to a more sustainable practice farmers can decrease the costs associated with farming while simultaneously increasing their yields and profit (srivietnam, 2010). Grassroots organizations and non-governmental organizations are key as they often have the resources and community connections required to provide education and reach rural populations who would benefit the most from SRI. These are also the organizations that can receive and utilize international funds and support in the most effective and efficient ways. SRI is one of the most effective methods for combatting food insecurity in Vietnam as rice production accounts for eighty-seven percent of cultivated land in the country, by intensifying and making this process more sustainable yields can be dramatically increased (Trang Thi Huy Nhat, 2010, p. 43).
Areas of future concern
What is particularly challenging in Vietnam is the system of land ownership – current law dictates the government owns all agricultural land, allowing citizens and communities land use rights for twenty-year periods (vietnamsri, 2009). This law makes it extremely difficult to justify private investment in agricultural land, the investment of additional time and personal resources, and holds no guarantee of future subsistence or economic gain for farmers. Without land ownership reform, this could have negative consequences on food security and poverty in the years to come as many rural populations could removed from the land they call home and rely on to live (vietnamsri, 2009). With policy reformation, ideally there could be law reforms made to protect rural populations and populations reliant on agriculture in the years to come. This law would not only benefit the rural farming population, but would also benefit the entire nation as this would allow populations and communities to continue to farm the same land year after year, benefitting from their investments and learning. This could increase production and increase food security for the entire country. This would also allow for private ownership of land, allowing communities and smaller organizations to pool their efforts and develop larger scale production methods.
As a coastal nation, Vietnam is also challenged by seasonal natural disasters which run the risk of flooding agricultural regions (particularly in the central regions), and salt-water infusion of agricultural regions. Vietnam has been working towards improving their early warning systems and predicting the timing and intensity of natural disasters, however much work remains to be completed (Trang Thi Huy Nhat, 2010, p. 49). With adequate research, natural disasters can be predicted and better mitigated in the future, however with climate change these do present an area of risk in addition to coastal flooding.
As stated earlier, Vietnam is in a unique position with regards to food security, the nation has the ability and resources to more than meet the food needs of its population and can be used as an example for many other nations. The economic policies implemented by the government also provide an excellent example of successful economic adjustment programs as completed by the nation they affect. The innovations and use of SRI also show that often the most sustainable and productive agricultural programs require innovation and may move beyond traditional methods. SRI also demonstrates that expensive fertilizers and genetically modified seeds are not required for resilient, healthy crops. If Vietnam is able to curb food insecurity and develop additional sustainable agricultural practices to be implemented alongside SRI, they could also drastically reduce the percentage of the population living in poverty. Vietnam remains on track to more than halve the percentage of their population living on less than one USD per day and with additional inputs and resources towards food security this goal could be surpassed. In aiding a nation in becoming food secure, Vietnam’s population would in turn be more productive, and better able to meet the future needs of the growing economy. Additionally, if Vietnam were able to become food secure, it would also be able to increase its exports aiding other nations in meeting their food needs.
Das, S. B., & Shrestha, O. L. (2009). Vietnam: Further Challenges in 2009. ASEAN Economic Bulletin , 26 (1), 1-10.
FAO Global Information and Early Warning Service. (2009). Crop Prospects and Food Situation. Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture, Rome.
Food and Agriculture Organization. (2011, August). Viet Nam. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from Countries: http://www.fao.org/countries/55528/en/vnm/
IFPRI. (2012, May). Vietnam. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from Food Security Portal: http://www.foodsecurityportal.org/vietnam
Painter, M. (2003). The Politics of Economic Restructuring in Vietnam: The Case of State-owned Enterprise “Reform”. Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs , 25 (1), 20-43.
Potter, R., Binns, T., Elliot, J., & Smith, D. (2008). Geographies of Development: An Introduction to Development Studies (Third Edition ed.). Pearson: Prentice Hall.
SRI in Vietnam. (2008). SRI in Vietnam. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from What is SRI?: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/about/
SRI-RICE. (2012). System of Rice Intensification. (S. I. Center, Producer) Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/
srivietnam. (2010, November 5). A Simple Way to Grow More Rice in a Changing Climate. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from SRI in Vietnam: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/a-simple-way-to-grow-more-rice-in-a-changing-climate/
Trang Thi Huy Nhat. (2010). Tackling Household Food Insecurity: The Experience of Vietnam. Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development , 5 (2), 41-56.
vietnamsri. (2009, April 17). Land Accumulation: Opportunity or Threat for Small Farmers in Vietnam? Retrieved May 12, 2012, from SRI in Vietnam: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/2009/04/17/land-accumulation-opportunity-or-threat-for-small-farmers-in-vietnam/
This guest post was written by Le Ngoc Thach, president of the Dai Nghia cooperative and one of the first SRI farmers in Ha Noi province, courtesy of Oxfam America.
Watching my parents’ rice crop fail was a heartbreak I will never forget. It was 1984, and that growing season, stem borer grubs devoured our plants and destroyed our harvest. One little bug meant a lost year of rice for our family and community.
Our community in Dai Nghia, Vietnam, like countless others around the world relies on the work of small farmers like my parents to grow rice and other crops that help us feed our children and support our families’ livelihoods. For farmers like me, the tragedies of a lost harvest are a growing threat as climate change makes the search for scarce resources like water and fertile land increasingly dire…
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