Helping the poorest farmers in Vietnam

Thursday, 30 January 2014 10:29 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Pictured here is Nguyen Dinh Thu, whose family is one of 700 households in my home province of Quang Tri to benefit from a sustainable agriculture development project undertaken by MAG and one of our development partners, Roots of Peace.

MAG cleared Thu's land in Son Ha village, removing 11 unexploded ordnance (UXO) items, enabling him to plant pepper trees so that he can earn a living with his wife and two children.

Pepper is a traditional crop and an important industry here in Quang Tri, due to its suitability to the local weather and soil. Pepper from the province is prized in Vietnam and around the world, and has a high value on the market.

However, many of the most suitable areas for cultivating pepper remain contaminated by UXO left over from the Vietnam War and, due to the farming technique required (digging of trenches up to one metre deep), most pepper farmers underuse the land because of the high risk of UXO accidents.

Thu’s land was identified as a priority for the project that aims to produce commercial crops for poorest farmers in the area. In total, MAG cleared 9,721m² of land at 17 pepper plantation areas from May to August 2012, finding and destroying 69 UXO items.

Roots of Peace then helped with seeds and fertilizer, as well as technical support to the farmers. On the cleared plantations, 1,043 one-year-old pepper plants are now growing well, and in two years the first crop will be harvested.

"We will use the additional income to send our children to school," Thu told me.

Thu knows the danger of UXO very well. When he was 21, his hoe struck a bomb that had stayed undisturbed for 13 years since the end of the war.

"I didn’t know what happened," he said. "There was a very big bang and I found myself covered in blood. I could hear people around me discussing how to take me to the hospital.

"The village was even poorer then: there was no ambulance, no taxi, no motorbike, not even a bicycle. They had to carry me in a hammock for 25 kilometres to the nearest medical facility. My hands had been blown off and my body was riddled with shrapnel."

MAG's work promotes development in Vietnam. New houses have been built, and new schools and roads constructed, on the land cleared by MAG.

Read more here on how MAG is fighting the UXO problem in Vietnam