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Collaboration And Networking To Enhance Education and Nutrition (CANTEEN)

Background

Improvement on nutrition and food security continues to be MCNV’s work priorities in Laos and especially in the areas where more ethnic minority groups are living. Nutrition and food security are closely interlinked and requires multi-sectoral approach as per the 8th National Social Economic Development Plan by the Government of Lao PDR, which states: “Nutrition is one of the sectors that faces challenges in the implementation since it is associated with several sectors such as food security, food access and food consumption. To counter these, it requires effective collaboration and shared responsibilities among the concerned agencies including sector of health, education, agriculture, environment, industry and commerce, etc.[1]”.

MCNV’s response

In Lao PDR, MCNV has recently started CANTEEN programe (Collaboration And Networking To Enhance Education and Nutrition). This is a 4.5 year-program (between Jan 2017 – June 2021), which is funded with 75% budget contribution by the EU delegation to strengthen the capacity of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Local Authorities (LAs) to work in partnership towards the achievement of development goals. The programme has two specific objectives as follows:

  1. To build the capabilities of at least 6 LAs, 1 non-profit association (NPA) and 20 village development committees (VDCs) to work together to deliver nutrition sensitive services that improve food security, nutrition, and overall well-being of more than 6,000 poor ethnic minority people in 20 remote upland villages in Nong District, Savannakhet province.
  2. To strengthen capacity in policy dialogue and promote participation, transparency and accountability in multi-sector partnerships to encourage the uptake of successful models and to increase involvement of CSOs in development processes.

CANTEEN works closely with CODA (a Lao NPA – non for profit association) and Provincial Health Department of Savannakhet province to promote collective and coordinative working among different local authority organisations and community based organization in Nong district to work together for improvement in nutrition and food security at village and district levels. The experience and lesson learnt from such multisectoral coordination will contribute to and be shared with other stakeholders at provincial and national levels who are working together to improve the situation of nutrition and food security in Lao PDR.

Expected results

During its 4.5 years implementation, CANTEEN program will support a range of activities in order to achieve the following expected results:

Expected result 1.1: Strengthened capacities of the participating LAs, CSOs and CBOs to deliver relevant, effective nutrition services to marginalised and vulnerable people, in particular women and children: This focuses on strengthening capacities of participating CSO and LA organisations and their staffs and members. The specific paths for capacity-building will be designed based on analysis of current gaps and future needs of each participating organisation. For the 20 participating Village Development Committees (CBOs) the Action will use a small-grant support scheme to help them improve their skills by practicing a full cycle of small experimental projects.

Expected result 1.2Reduced malnutrition and food insecurity in target villages through adoption of convergent approaches that include key stakeholders in health, agricultural and education sectors: This is designed specifically to demonstrate effectiveness of the convergent approach in reducing the incidences of malnutrition and food insecurity in the selected villages. This emphasises the importance of working together to achieve a common goal. All sectoral interventions (i.e. educational, agricultural or health) are designed for nutrition sensitivity and are aimed at generating evidence on how to contribute to reduction of food insecurity and malnutrition. The proposed interventions under this refer to 14 of the 22 priority actions identified in the recently published National Nutrition Strategy to 2025 and Plan of Action 2016- 2020, designed to reduce malnutrition rapidly and sustainably with an emphasis on gender equality and the rights of women and girls.

Expected result 2.1: Increased effectiveness of institutional environment for CSOs and LA, with stronger networks that have better capacity to advocate for sustainable approaches using evidence arising from the action. This will show the up-scaled and sustainable interventions in Nong District, using evidence-based advocacy to argue for their replication, adaptation and adoption in other areas of Lao PDR. It will strengthen links with civil society networks such as the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)-Alliance. This adds value to GoL’s plans, as it currently is expanding the rollout of convergent approaches to other provinces, including Savannakhet, and will be seeking evidence and support for effective implementation and expansion.

[1] The Five Year National Social Economic Development Plan VIII – 2016 – 2020: part I: 7th NSEDP 2011-2015: achievement and lessons learned. Lao PDR.

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Learning about the use of Innovative Communication Methods (LICM)

Background

Disadvantaged and discriminated groups of people such as handicapped people, older people, HIV/AIDS infected people or people with a different sexual orientation are often shy, tend to stigmatise themselves, and often struggle with feelings of shame and self-doubt.

MCNV’s response

To assist disadvantaged groups in overcoming their shyness and to encourage them to engage in dialogues with a wider public, MCNV has experimented a lot with the use of Innovative Communication Methods (ICM). MCNV uses the term ‘Innovative Communication Methods’ to denounce creative and entertaining styles of communication such as community-based theatre, shadow drama, narrative story-telling, body mapping, songs, dance and participatory video.

The experience was so successful that MCNV decided to expand the application of the ICM approach to other areas of work including awareness raising on health issues and policy advocacy in areas like garbage collection and Sexual and  Reproductive Health and Rights. The ICMs that MCNV supported to use in Vietnam included theatre based approach, puppet plays, participatory video, dance and folk singing.

 

Achievements

The use of arts (drama and songs) improved the social status of both the Village Health Worker Association (VHWA) and Community Based Organisation (CBO) they cooperated with.  Besides that, the Village Health Worker Association (VHWA) and Community Based Organisation (CBO) members became more confident of themselves through the use of arts and became less afraid of speaking out in public meetings. In 2015, Disabled People Organisations (DPOs) and Old People’s Organisations (OPAs) in ethnic minority areas of Quang Tri province managed to collect Eur 30,000 from their communities through campaigns and public meetings where they performed drama and songs, and they use this money to sustain their community development activities. LICM demonstrated its positive contributions to advocacy as well. For example, in 2014, the Old People’s Organisations (DPO) in Quang Tri successfully lobbied for an increase of the budget of the district allocated to old people’s health by organising lobby events during which they performed drama.

Future plan

Recently, MCNV obtained funding of OXFAM-NOVIB and HIVOS to experiment with the use of ICM in Laos as well. MCNV will assist three vulnerable youth groups i.e. handicapped youth, LGBTQI youth and girls working in garment factories in Laos in using ICM for their own empowerment and for advocacy. The project allows MCNV to enlarge her experience in this field and promote the method further.

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Stimulating Entrepreneurship among vulnerable groups

BACKGROUND

Entrepreneurship is about leadership, innovatively, creativity and about envisioning and exploiting possibilities. Several programs have shown the positive influence of entrepreneurship on poor and marginalised people. When they find ways of earning money they feel respected, it helps them to get into daily routines, and it makes them proud to be able to contribute money to their families and communities. The development of different types of Community managed Development Funds combined with entrepreneurship trainings and trainings on financial literacy, have already assisted thousands of people to improve their living conditions. MCNV plans to increase activities in the field of entrepreneurship especially in Vietnam.

MCNV’S RESPONSES

The market economy offers a proportion of marginalized people chances to escape their poverty. However, many face barriers of access, lack necessary capabilities or do not recognize, or even believe, that they have chances. For this reason it is important for MCNV to study and take into account how local market systems work and identify barriers and facilitators for access by marginalized groups. The work with market systems takes various forms in different programs/projects, and at different levels of development.

Almost all ethnic minorities were dependent on self-subsistence farming and have increasingly come into contact with ‘the markets’. First the traders came via the new roads (opened for ‘development’) to them from elsewhere to buy agricultural products at the farm gate. But after that these traders established shops right in the farmers’ communities and used their knowledge and networks to become ‘middlemen’ between the local producers and outside markets. The impact of these middlemen is manifold: on the one hand they help poor farmers creating new sources of income, new crops and agricultural knowledge, but on the other hand it is in their interest to keep the farmers dependent on them, for instance via debt traps and protecting their local monopolies. In the Community-Managed Health and Livelihood Development project in Khanh Hoa province (2004-2016), MCNV has worked long with ethnic minority communities to help them increase their aspiration, self-confidence and knowledge and to gradually reduce their dependencies on the middlemen, as well as on the local government.

A next step in ‘working with the market to alleviate marginalisation and poverty’ is best illustrated by MCNV’s Microfinance projects, such as that managed by the Women’s Union in Ben Tre, where poor women groups learn to save and invest money to set up and grow small businesses. Basic “financial literacy” is often lacking among the marginalised target groups and therefore MCNV is building this capacity among many groups, like for Disabled People’s Organisations to know how they could act best to maintain and gradually grow their Revolving Funds.

Future plan

Many further steps are needed to make the market work best for the poor. A large majority of Vietnamese farmers are small-holder farmers who certainly do not lack entrepreneurship or financial literacy, but they are poorly organised, which significantly decreases the influence and the “Value Chains” of their products. In Quang Tri province, Vietnam, MCNV is developing relationships with farmer’s cooperatives, and agricultural producer groups. In the near future, MCNV intends to link these initiatives to farmer groups and value chain development in neighbouring area’s in Lao PDR, thus enhancing cross-border value chain development.

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Learning through health research

Background

Research is vital for informing and underpinning MCNV’s interventions and ensuring that we can understand their impact. It also helps to ensure that knowledge is generated to inspire new ideas, catalyse innovations, and provide evidence to policy makers to inform their decision making and help ensure that policies are effectively implemented. The publication of research also helps to inform others of new processes, methods, techniques and ways of thinking that contributes to improved ways of working to reduce poverty and improve health.

MCNV’s responses

In Lao PDR, MCNV runs the LEARN (Lao Equity through policy Analysis and Research Networks) this a 5 year program that is funded by the EU Commission to enhance the capabilities of public health institutes in Laos. Working together with a range of partners the program aims to ensure that the Laos National Institute of Public Health becomes of centre of excellence for the provision of evidence-based and contextually adapted policy advice. This evidence is used to enhance decision making and improve the implementation of health policies both within Laos and the wider Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS)

LEARN brings together a unique range of partners to achieve this goal. As well as the Laos National Institute of Public Health, LEARN also brings together the University of Health Sciences in Laos, the VU University in the Netherlands, the Hanoi School of Public in Vietnam and MCNV, an international NGO that has been working in the health sector in the GMS for many decades.

These partners come together to help ensure that:

  • Effective and convincing evidence is available to policy-makers who are better able to use it for policy making and programming
  • The National Institute of Public Health and its partners have increased access to finance, skilled human resources and information.
  • Researchers are able to produce high quality research and are able to convincingly present results and recommendations to a wide range of stakeholders.

Expected results

During its 5 year implementation the program will support a range of activities including;

  • International scholarships for Lao researchers to gain Phd’s
  • A joint Masters in Public Health Program between University of Health Sciences and Hanoi School of Public Health
  • Upgrade of IT facilities and introduction of public health e-learning resource centre
  • A research grant scheme to support the production of high quality research with Laos
  • Development of a long-term strategic plan for National Institute of Public Health
  • A wide range of workshops and trainings in areas ranging from ethics, transdisciplinary research practice, and production of policy briefs.

In addition to this major project, MCNV also conducts research in a wide range of areas including the impact of its agricultural interventions on nutrition and how these can be scaled-up, the use of IT in development, the control and prevention of malaria, the effectiveness of self-help groups in empowering people living with HIV and examining barriers to policy implementation in areas as diverse as the provision of mental health services and access to mother and child healthcare. Research is often conducted in partnerships with Dutch Universities such as VU University. The research is action-based and reflective and is designed to ensure that all people are involved in the process, for complex issues such as malnutrition, multiple stakeholders and engaged in the research and transdisciplinary approaches are used. MCNV’s works in research helps us to understand better the world around us and ensures we can support people within development processes to make the world a better place.

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Nutrition sensitive agriculture in Lao PDR and Vietnam

Background

Despite significant development progress in recent years, hunger remains a significant problem in Lao PDR, with 44% of children under 5 years old being malnourished placing their lives at risk and damaging their lifelong health. This issue is particularly severe in Nong District, one of the poorest areas in Lao PDR, and where the people can suffer food shortages for many months in the year. To tackle these problems MCNV takes a nutrition-sensitive approach to its agricultural and livelihoods work within some of poorest villages in the district.

MCNV’s responses

This approach seeks to maximize agricultures contribution to nutrition and recognizes the multiple benefits derived from enjoying a varied and nutritious diet, the social significance of food and the importance of agriculture in supporting rural livelihoods. Instead of focusing exclusively on crop production for the market, villagers use their land to cultivate a variety of commodities including fruits, vegetables, small livestock and fish. In Nong, MCNV has supported this approach by supporting the development of fish ponds, providing seeds and equipment for home gardens and strengthening village veterinary services to ensure healthy livestock. MCNV’s approach to agriculture also entails promoting gender equity, and providing nutrition education so that household resources are used to improve nutrition, especially that of women and young children. For example, the approach looks at the division of labour between men and women, to ensure mothers have enough time to breastfeed their infants. Finally, MCNV adopts a multi-sectoral approach to nutrition linking agriculture to sectors that address other causes of malnutrition, namely education, health and social protection.

Achievements

Through working in partnership with organisations ranging from village development committees to the Ministries of Agriculture, MCNV has improved agricultural production whilst preserving the soil, land and water that villagers depend upon, but most importantly it has helped to reduce hunger and malnutrition improving the health of children with lifelong benefits.

Future direction

In the coming years MCNV is working with the Food and Business Knowledge Platform and VU University in the Netherlands to conduct research into the impacts of nutrition-sensitive agriculture to ensure that it can be scaled-up so many more people in Lao PDR and elsewhere can benefit from this approach.

Scaling-up nutrition-sensitive agricultural initiatives in Vietnam and Lao PDR

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Support women living with and affected by HIV

Background

HIV/AIDS epidemic has become the most emerging public health problems in Vietnam since 1990s. By the end of year 2015 there was a total of 227,000 people living with HIV while more than 75,000 people have died from AIDS. In estimation about 14,000 new cases of HIV are founded every year.

During 12 years working in HIV/AIDS area, MCNV had a considerable contribution to Vietnam HIV/AIDS situation in establishing and providing support to a community – based organization of women who are living with HIV, called Sunflowers, in seven Northern provinces in Vietnam. The program has contributed to improving access to health care for women living with HIV because of the strengthened referral system.

MCNV’s responses and achievements

Beginning in 2004, a group of women living with HIV was established by MCNV’s support. The simple aims were to ensure that, if pregnant, women can access to information and medicine that would help to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child. This initial pilot was successful in achieving its goals, and with the generous support of the Royal Netherland Embassy, it was scaled-up to a further three provinces between 2006 – 2009. In its third phase these achievements were consolidated and the model adapted to suit the needs of people living in remote mountainous regions. Then the program covers seven provinces and the Sunflowers group supports over 1,500 women living with or affected by HIV/AIDS and their families.

The Sunflowers groups help to ensure that they can overcome the barriers and obstacles they face to live active and fulfilled lives. This support comes in many forms, it includes: counselling and care at home and in hospitals, support to secure stable livelihoods, assistance with children’s education, and engagement with the community to reduce stigma and discrimination. Over more than 12 years the program has demonstrated that when women living with HIV work together their confidence and self-esteem increases enabling them to become powerful advocates for change and developments.

From 2012, after handing over, the network of Sunflowers had worked more independence with its own steering board of national level, and leaders of each provincial group. The Sunflowers are maintaining supports in improving health care access, income generating, and social by monthly meeting, revolving fund, and many supportive events. From this period, overcoming difficulties, Sunflower maintains its groups and networks with many valuable activities. More than 1,100 women living with HIV frequent attend the monthly meeting. Living with poor health status, many leaders of Sunflowers cannot be able to have a longer contribute to their group. Sunflower have refreshed themselves by changing most of group leaders and Network leaders and its structure.

In addition, MCNV provides health care insurance to Sunflower members, therefore, 100% of women living with HIV are protected by health insurance. The program also organizes vivid trainings to cultivate skills and knowledge to Sunflowers and their family members. Specifically, parenting skills were provided to grandparents who are raising orphan children. The training, such as hepatitis C prevention, ARV therapy, pig raising skills have been delivered to members of the Sunflower groups.

Future plan

Currently and in a couple of year MCNV is providing technical and a little financial supports, which is enabling the Sunflowers to be strengthened, and capable to work more independently as a Community Based Organization of women living with HIV, to bring support to women living with HIV continuously.

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Sexual & reproductive health for teenager in Huong Hoa

Background

Huong Hoa is a remote district of Quang Tri province, located in the border area Vietnam – Lao PDR. The district has a total population of nearly 80,000 in which above 50% are people from ethnic groups of Pacoh and Bru Van Kieu. In the villages along the border area where MCNV works, out of total population of 12,353 people, there are 1,999 poor households (16.2%) and 9,835 ethnic minority people (79.6%).

The Pacoh and Bru Van Kieu have no written language and have limited access to educational information and quality health services. They mainly live on growing banana, cassava, corn, and some rice, and practice shifting cultivation on the poor highlands. They work hard but obtain insufficient income to afford health and educational services. Similar to other ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, as a consequence of poverty and low awareness, they lag behind in all aspects of the development process.

Problem

As a cultural custom, teenagers of Pacoh and Bru Van Kieu ethnic groups are allowed by their parents to date quite freely, and they are allowed to get married, too, when they are still very young. Having sex is almost unavoidable among teenagers. The problem is that so many of them do not have enough basic knowledge in SRH, putting themselves always at risk of bearing unexpected pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). While SRH is not taught at schools, teenagers in this remote area also have limited access to educational messages about SRH through other channels of information. And even if they are aware of problems related to SRH, they avoid talking about it as it is too much “sensitive” or “private” to talk about.

A baseline survey done with teenagers in this area in 2013 has given shocking data – 56% of teenagers under 16 already experienced having sex, 78% didn’t know how to protect themselves from STDs, 14% of teen-girls got unexpected pregnancy, and 97% didn’t prove that they had enough basic knowledge in contraception.

MCNV’s responses

Since mid-2015, MCNV has launched a project to help tackle this problem. We started with co-creation workshops with some groups of active teenagers and village health workers (VHWs) selected from two piloted communes of A Tuc and A Xing. Co-creation workshops enabled the teenagers to get basic understandings about SRH, analyse their real problems, identify practical solutions and come up with an action plan. A story-based approach was applied so that the teenagers could share true stories that happened as a consequence of unsafe sex practices in their community and, with technical support from MCNV staff and the VHWs, re-formulate the stories in the form of shadow drama and puppet shows. The teenagers then presented the shows in combination with community events and interacted with the audiences about SRH aspects related to the stories. The community events were organized every month by the teenagers with the participation of peer/interest groups – youth football clubs, and RAP and hip-hop groups.

In parallel with this way of behavior change communication, some teenagers also volunteered to sell condoms at home, which was more easily approachable to the young people. In contrast, condoms could be easily found at the commune health stations, but the teenagers would never come there to ask for.

Another solution was to use the photo-story telling technique to tell the stories in the form of animations and shared them on the social media to reach and interact more with the online community. We also used a mass instant messaging service to deliver educational messages about SRH for teenagers in this remote area in a weekly basis.

Achievements

One of the most significant change, as revealed from 40 in-depth interviews and 4 focus group discussions recently with the teenagers directly involved in the project, is that they have changed their mindsets, attitudes and behaviours about SRH at teenage and actively communicated with their friends, families and neighbours to raise their awareness about this topic, which they never dared to speak out before.

Four small groups of teenagers, about 10 members each, have produced 4 shadow plays and 4 puppet shows and used them for behavior change communication events and for online communication.

An added value of the project was the increase in the teenagers’ power and motivation to make contribution to the community development, which they thought before to be the adults’ affairs. They have become more united for it, as well. There used to be tensions and conflicts among different groups of teenagers, making them not dare to go from one commune to another for fear of being beaten. Now they have become friends, instead.

Further evaluation will be done in the coming time to see changes in SRH knowledge, attitudes and practices among more than 600 teenagers and older young people in these two communes.

Future plan

We expect to maintain this project in these two communes and upscale it in other three neighboring communes of Huong Hoa district in 2017 and 2018, directly benefiting to about 1,300 teenagers and older young people. In this new phase, we will promote the role of local leaders, parent groups and schools (both high schools and secondary schools) in changing SRH practices among teenagers. In addition, we will collaborate with the district and commune health centres and the Association of VHWs in applying e-health initiatives in SRH communication.

Good practices and lessons learnt from this project will be documented and shared with relevant organisations and networks, such as UNFPA, Barefoot Guide Alliance, ARROW, ADF, WGNRR, and the Vietnam’s health sector and policy makers.

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Climate Change Adaptation for the Poor Coastal Community in Ben Tre

Background

Serious drought in Ben Tre 2016

The serious drought and salinity in Ben Tre other Mekong river delta provinces of Vietnam in the beginning of 2016 was declared as a natural disaster by the government. The shortage of fresh water for human consumption and agricultural production is especially affecting poor people living near the coastal areas.

 

A family lacks fresh water

A family lacks fresh water

 

Global Climate change is increasingly making direct impacts on the living situation of huge numbers of people in developing countries whose livelihoods depend strongly on natural conditions. People who earn their living from agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture are the most vulnerable. Natural events such as typhoons, floods, droughts and saline intrusion are happening more often and more intensely in recent years, eroding people’s assets and investments and pushing many back into poverty. The salinity in the main rivers (4‰ isohaline) had intruded about 45-65km from river mounths and the whole of Ben Tre province was covered by water with a salinity of 1‰. More than 20,000ha of rice in Spring-Summer crop had been lost. About 8,500 ha of fruit trees were partly damaged by the drought and salinity. More than 98,000 households (about 400,000 people) lack fresh water because they do not have enough containers to store rain water.

MCNV’s responses

MCNV quickly responded to the climate change issues in Ben Tre for the poorest people who are suffering most from the drought and salinity. The aim of MCNV is to create a sustainable mechanism which could help the poor maintain and step by step adapt their livelihoods to the more difficult natural conditions.

From May 2016, MCNV provided loans to help families to build big water containers to retain more rain water for human consumption during dry season. Loans from MCNV microfinance project in Binh Dai district allow poor family to build high capacity water container of about 3m3 each. Loans should be paid back monthly over 12 to 24 months so that it is convenient also for the poor. Up to August 2016, 150 households have borrowed from the MCNV project to build 286 big water containers with total capacity of 858m3. The loans for water containers will be available throughout this year and in coming years to create access for the poor to store more fresh water. Many more people can be supported by loans than with one time grant support.

A mushroom production workshop

A mushroom production workshop

With financial support from Jumpstart Foundation, MCNV collaborates with the Ben Tre provincial Women’s Union to establish women cooperatives, which provide stable jobs and income for poor women. These jobs help poor families to adapt to climate change by reducing their dependency on farming. Five women cooperatives will be established in Binh Dai and Ba Tri district for the production of mushrooms and dried fish, that will create jobs for at least 100 poor women. These cooperations will be the first test for more productive models for poor women in the future.

Future plan

MCNV would like to establish a livelihood adaptation knowledge website to share our field experience to help poor communities to improve their livelihoods by adapting to climate change. We believe this could be very helpful for other places and people who are facing the same problems.

At the same time, MCNV also looks for Corporate Social Responsibility programs to supply water containers to kindergartens, commune health centers and friendship houses for extreme poor people in Ben Tre. Creative trainings on adapted livelihoods should be provided widely to raise awareness for everyone to better prepare them for unavoidable climate change.

First members of dried fish women cooperative

First members of dried fish women cooperative

Climate change impacts on livelihoods are very complex and many more poor communities will need comprehensive support to adapt to new situations. MCNV expects to find additional development partners to do practical field research and bring innovative methods that could help poor communities to stablise their lives and overcome the additional challenges from climate change.

This intervention records the first foot print of MCNV into the Climate Change sector. MCNV commits to support poor communities to adapt their livelihoods with best effective and innovative approaches to make this effort sustainable and helpful to poor people.

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Climate change adaptive agriculture & livelihoods

Background

Southeast Asia is one of the regions that will soon be severely affected by climate change. All throughout the region farmers are complaining that the rainy seasons have become more unpredictable and often bring too little rain too late, leading to misharvests.

The combined effect of less freshwater runoff from the Mekong river, due to upstream dams, and rising sea water levels is already leading to increased salinization. In Ben Tre province where MCNV has been working for many years this has become an acute problem for many as the famous Pomelo trees have started to wither away.

MCNV’s responses

Climate change will eventually affect all, but the poor and marginalized are hit hardest and soonest. Therefore MCNV pays special attention to help pilot and promote more climate change resilient forms of agriculture in the areas where we work. Sustainable approaches that stop and revert the deterioration of soil fertility and conserve the use of fresh water are among the most important directions. As long as these methods do not require heavy investments which would per definition ‘exclude’ the poor people to benefit from. At the same time, to stabilise the lives of the poor who are seriously affected by drought and salinity, MCNV offers technical trainings and credit for poor women to start up on alternative income generation activities such as on husbandry and handy craft work. Establishment of new cooperative models for poor women based on their traditional professional strengths and market experience is a new approach that MCNV pilots in Ben Tre province. The cooperatives promises to create more opportunities for the poor because it reduce production cost and more effective in labour utilisation.

MCNV has responded quickly and effectively with an initiative to support the poor women to build big water container to retain rain water for their cooking needs in dry season right after the drought and salinity happened in early 2016. Up to September 2016, the revolving loans for water container building has been helping 160 household to build 296 containers which could retain total of 829m3 rain water for live needs in drought seasons. The number of poor households which could build containers will increase in coming year as the loans revolves.

The theme of sustainable agriculture is deeply intertwined with the increasing need of producing safe and nutritious food for growing populations. The massively increasing concern about food safety among the more affluent people in urban areas in Vietnam in fact offers new livelihood chances for poor ethnic minority farmers in organic farming. Their land and soils, if kept healthy and unpolluted, may in future become one of their most valuable assets. Luckily there are signs that the agriculture policy makers might turn away from the customary equation of high technology and large scale solutions with ‘development’, where these are still strongly promoted by global agribusiness and agro-chemical corporations.

MCNV is most strongly developing the theme of ‘Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture’ among some of the most remote and poor ethnic minority farmers in Laos. These areas are too far from urbanized areas and markets and the emphasis must be on sustainable self-subsistence and improving/ restoring the access to nutritious foods, especially for infants and pregnant women, in a context of deteriorating natural resources /forests.

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