Visit to the ethnic minority women of Bac Kan Province (Viet Nam), agents of change

When the plane landed at the Noibai international airport on 6 November morning, I was so excited to see the famous city of Hanoi that I forgot I was travelling with Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of IFAD, “man of the field”. After twelve hour trip from Rome to Hanoi airport via Bangkok, I was nice to see our colleagues from IFAD Field Office in Viet Nam: Atsuko Toda and Nguyen Than Tung who together with official from Ministries of Planning and Investment and Foreign Affairs  were waiting for us at the airport. We left the airport directly for the Bac Kan Province to visit IFAD-funded supported projects in the northern part of the country.

“I like to go first to the field so when I am back to the capital, I can report to the Government officials what I saw with my own eyes” said the President of IFAD who was leading the delegation.

The delegation of IFAD was composed of the President himself, Mr Yaya Olaitan Olaniran, IFAD Executive Board Director, Atsuko, Tung and myself. After three hours driving, we finally arrived in Bac Kan. After the a short stop an the hotel, we were received by the Chairman of Bac Kan Province, Mr Houng Ngoc Duong. Chairman Houng welcomed the President and the IFAD delegation  and introduced the members of the local government.

He made a presentation on the Pro-Poor Partnerships for Agroforestry Development Project (3PAD) in Bac Kan Province which has amongst the highest concentration of minority people and is one of the poorest provinces in the country. The presentation was followed by a video on the success story of the project which started only in April 2009. The objective of 3PAD is to establish a framework for sustainable and profitable agroforestry development in the Province.

The President congratulated the Chairman for the comprehensive presentation and the Province for their achievements saying that after 18 months of the implementation, we've already started to see results. The Chairman commended the wonderful job our colleagues in Viet Nam are doing and told the President that the Province is already thinking of the second phase of the project to be extended to other districts in the Province. Chairman Duong also told the President that he would like IFAD to mobilize other development partners to support Bac Kan to reduce poverty in it remote areas.

The President was impressed of such commitment at the Province level and their long term development vision and  reassured Chairman Duong that IFAD will support Bac Kan in its quest of poverty reduction.

The long day was concluded by a dinner at the Provincial People’s Committee (PPC) Guest House where IFAD delegation met the members of PPC and the Project staff. The atmosphere was really friendly.

During the dinner the President also met Mrs Dong Thi Oanh, Chairwoman of the Provincial Women Union and Mr Dong Van Luu, Chairman of the Provincial Youth Union. During their discussion, the President informed that he is committed to support both women and youth issues.

On 7 November, early in the morning, another two hours in the car and we arrived in Ba Be District where the President met and discussed with the ethnic minority women Tay in Na Kieng village and Dao in Na Mo very remote mountain areas. In Na Kieng, the women during the meeting told the President that they need to have access to credit to buy seeds and that they could benefit from training in land management, learn about new technology for planting fruit trees, and they also desperately need improved rural infrastructure such as rural road.

Talking to Mrs Vi Thi Oanh, Vice Chairwoman of the Women Committee in the Village Na Kieng, she said that with the project, 10 households are now planting water melon in the village and their incomes are considerably increasing.

When we say IFAD works in remote areas, we really mean it. When the IFAD delegation finally reached the Na Mo, we had to walk for another 1 kilometre to actually get to the village. The village is about 600 meters above sea level. Both our Vietnamese friends and colleagues and the IFAD delegation were quite tired by the time we reached Na Mo.

In a really friendly atmosphere, the Dao women warmly welcomed the delegation in the Community House. After few minutes, the ice was broken. The representative of the Na Mo women Trieu Ghen informed the President that they would also like to include in their 2011 work plan the production of vegetables, livestock. The village leader Huu Phung said that they would also like to start planting the trees as this will help to protect the land and provide a source of  increase income and give them an opportunity to replace the trees with new plants.

Dr Nwanze, the man of rice, could not be visiting Viet Nam without visiting farmers working in rice fields! Rice and the past professional life of Dr Nwanze are inseparable. When he was the Director of the Africa Rice Center for a decade, Dr Nwanze was instrumental in introducing and promoting New Rice for Africa (NERICA). Just after lunch, we moved to Dia Linh village Yin Duong Comune, another area of IFAD project.

Here, the Dao minority women and men work in rice fields. The President interacted with the owner of the land Mrs Houng who told the delegation that she has obtained the forest and land use right certificate for 50 years in her and her husband name.

Later on we moved to the mountain to see another forest land allocated to her and her husband. She used this land to plant  banana trees and maize. She told the delegation that she will sell the banana to get more money and she'll be using maize for her family consumption, to produce the local liquor and feed the livestock so she can sell the animals at better price.

She said since the land has been allocated to her, their life condition has improved. Regarding the banana plantation, the President asked about the quantity of banana she can get from each three and how long it will take for the young plant to produce banana. The western banana as they call it in Viet Nam, takes one year before it gives fruit. The President told her that she can get a new variety of banana seed from Kenya which can give more bananas in less than 9 months.

IFAD-funded project in this area will also address the issue of land to help the poorest ethnic minority women to get land use certificate.

All rural ethnic minority women the President met  were committed to take the opportunity of the 3PAD to improve their families life conditions. The President also said that IFAD is committed to continue working with them to develop innovative methods for linking poverty reduction with market-oriented agricultural and rural development.