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Small-scale watershed governance, livelihood strategies, and land degradation in the northern mountains of Vietnam

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Do Anh TAI, Dang Dinh QUANG, Tran Pham Van CUONG,
Damien JOURDAIN, UMR G-EAU CIRAD / IRRI, SAM Project, Hanoi, Vietnam Do Anh TAI, Thainguyen University of Economics and Business Administration (TUEBA), Thainguyen City, Vietnam Dang Dinh QUANG, Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science

AbstractIn South-East Asia, more than 20 million people directly depend on the land and water resources of upper catchments of the Mekong and Red rivers. In these areas, many farmers are relying on rice-based cropping systems to meet most of their food needs. Increasing population density and the protection of forested area traditionally used for swidden agriculture have reduced the availability of agricultural land per capita. The ensuing intensification is leading to rapid degradation of these fragile lands. Farmers are thus caught in a vicious circle of low productivity, food insecurity, and degradation of resources. Watershed governance, understood as the local rules and norms that govern access to land and water, often worsen these processes for many households but could also be considered as an entry point to break the vicious circles in place. The main objective of the study was to evaluate the impact of small-scale watershed governance on individual households’ livelihood strategies and land use decisions. Two catchments in the Northern Province of Yen Bai, Vietnam were selected for their contrast in terms of land and water resources. The villagers of Sai Luong and Nam Chau, in Nam Bung commune share a relatively large bottom valley where upland paddies can be cultivated, while the villagers of Pang Cang and Giang B have mainly access to sloping land and are progressively mobilizing water runoff through the construction of terraces. Participatory exercises were conducted to elicit the rules and norms that govern access of households to land and water resources. Household surveys were used to build a typology of farmers that relates access to water, livelihood strategies, and agricultural practices. Results showed that access to water is highly uneven among agricultural households due to the “first come-first served” rule. Even in situations of apparent abundance of water, an important share of the villagers had little access to water during the months were it would be critically needed to cultivate a second rice crop. In turn, inequity in access to water contributes to unsustainable use of other resources such as sloping land. Households with low access to water were deprived from a second rice crop in the upland paddies compartments, and were forced to grow food crops on sloping lands at an unsustainable rhythm. Therefore, water governance has far-reaching consequences that need to be recognized on the quest to produce sustainable use of resources in the watershed. Through participatory exercises, three complementary solutions had been identified to induce changes: (a) construction of direct access (canals, bamboos, etc.) to water flows to avoid inter-dependency of households, (b) renegotiation of water sharing between users, and (c) use of water saving techniques on the lower compartments of the watersheds. The first two solutions will require hard negotiations between water users before being effectively implemented. The third solution aim at relieving the tensions over water resources and would effectively complement the negotiations over water sharing.
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