Livelihood & Climate Change

When WE dance in the rain

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”, this saying can apply to many incidents in our life, including the fight against COVID-19.

This is a garment manufacturing group of Tan Thieng commune, Cho Lach district, the Mekong delta province of Ben Tre. The group is one of the 19 cooperative groups financially supported by Jumpstart Foundation (the Netherlands), as part of the Women Empowerment programme (WE), implemented by MCNV.

Founded in January 2019, the group has created job for 20 members, generating monthly income of around VND 3-4 million for each. The main products of the group are female clothings and beddings. Workers can choose to work full-time or part-time, work at the group’s facility or work from home.

Besides its flexibility, garment manufacturing is considered a safe choice of occupation (not depends on the nature) in the context of climate change and salt intrusion, which are getting more severe in Ben Tre.

In the first half of 2020, due to COVID-19, the group’s production was suspended for over 2 months. Nonetheless, instead of wasting time on feeling sorry for themselves, they took this chance to contribute to the community by making face masks. The fabric were provided by the commune authorities while the leader of the group, Ms.Nguyen Thi Ngoc Yen, used her pocket money to sponsor wage for the workers.

In March and April, 10,000 masks were produced and distributed as the gift of care to residents in the commune, the district, of which 5,000 were donated to local schools.

To acknowledge their dedication to the fight against COVID-19, Ben Tre provincial Women’s Union recently awarded Tan Thieng garment manufacturing group with the Certification of Recognition.

COVID-19 is now contained in Vietnam, and the group production has been restored since June. They are putting even more efforts in their works, which beautifies others  and brighten their future, at the same time.

– Stay tuned for further update!

Read more

Zoom in on a life-changing project in Binh Dai (Ben Tre province)

In over the last 10 years, in Binh Dai District, Ben Tre Province, there is a project that has been providing life-changing instrument for thousands of women to rise against poverty…

From poverty to financial independence

In the past, Ms. Truong Thi Phuong (born in 1972) and her husband, residents of Phu Thanh Hamlet, Phu Vang Commune, Binh Dai District, Ben Tre province used to made a living out of a small vegetables garden and some seasonal jobs, which generated a modest amount of income.

Despite being diligent, they still struggled to make ends meet. When their children got into college, the couple were over the moon but also extremely worried. The kids would have a brighter future than their parents but how could they manage to pay for their four-year tuition fees and other expenses in the city.

Ms.Truong Thi Phuong and her grocery store.

Phuong’s family life came to a turning point in 2015, when she became member of the Women Union of Phu Vang Commune and began to get accesss to the Micro Credit and Saving project, implemented by the Medical Committee Netherlands-Vietnam (MCNV) and sponsors.

With the loan provided by the project, Phuong and her husband shortly sleeved up to find their ways out of poverty. Part of the cash was spent on poultry rearing, while the rest was invested in launching a small grocery store.

“At the beginning, due to my lack of experiences, we faced a lot of challenges”, Phuong recalled.

Fortunately, thanks to active participation in science and technology transfer workshops held by local Women Union, Phuong and her husband soon acquired fundamental knowledges in farming as well as doing business. Step by step, their ‘startup’ started to yield profits, providing a stable source of income, and at the same time, could be used as capital to feed new investment.

After several microcredit cycles, following the advices of project staff and the senior members of local Women Union, Phuong bought a cow which later gave birth to two calves. After deducting all costs of rearing, they earned around VND tens million annually.

Since the rearing was not time-consuming, Phuong’s husband spent the rest of his day on some part-time jobs such as bricklaying, fishing, which earned him VND few hundred thousand per day.

After 5 years of participating in the Micro Credit and Saving project of Binh Dai district, Ms. Truong Thi Phuong and her husband have filed for crossing their name in the poor households list.

From the bottom where the couple could not make ends meet, now they have secured stable and sufficient income. As the two children have graduated from colleges and have found jobs, the family is free from worries about livelihoods. Their old wobbly house has been renovated into a fully furnished one.

Phuong also has more time for community activities. She is very enthusiastic about sharing her experience in doing business with her neighbors, fellows, and lending supports to those in need.

“‘A stitch in time saves nine’, more than anyone, I understand what it is like to live in poverty. At the moment, I am willing to help anyone in need”, she said.

Striving from the bottom, she is always grateful for what the Micro Credit and Saving project and her fellows have done to support her.

Freshwater security against salinity

Ben Tre is severely affected by saline intrusion. Illustration photo: VNA

Located in the Mekong delta region, Ben Tre is severely affected by saline intrusion. Even local water plants are affected with salinity of 2 grammes.

Located on an islet, Binh Dai district’s four sides were surrounded by rivers and seas, making the area more vulnerable to saline intrusion (high salinity, deep intrusion level). Local residents are facing huge challenges as saline intrusion negatively affected agricultural production and daily life.

In the fierce battle against salinity, Binh Dai district was lucky enough to receive aid from the Micro Credit and Saving project. Along with providing loans to support livelihoods, the project has also assisted poor, nearly poor, and disadvantaged households to build water containers and purchase rainwater and freshwater storing tanks for daily life and production.

Ms.Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh and her water container.

“In 2016, I registered for a loan of VND five million to build two 4m3 water containers; the costs for materials and workers was around VND six million …” , said Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh (Tan Long hamlet, Thanh Phuoc commune).

According to Oanh, thanks to the project, her family could store enough freshwater to use for the whole year. In the dry season, the family consume more well water therefore they always have extra stock of rainwater.

Being aware of the benefit in the long run, in 2018, Oanh continued to take a new loan of VND five million to build two 6m3 water containers, the two cost around VND seven million.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao (born in 1985) lives in Vinh Tan hamlet, Vang Quoi Dong commune is another beneficiary of the project. Thank to the 6m3 rainwater, freshwater container, her three-member family now can feel secured during drought season.

 “Because saline intrusion occurs every year, I decided to build container to store rainwater or freshwater for daily use. In 2016, I filed for a VND five million in 24 months to build two containers. I was thrilled as they were so helpful. Without them, we would have had to use saltwater like the previous years, which negatively affects sanitation. I am going to borrow some more to build another two containers. If salinization persists, I am afraid that there will not be enough freshwater…” 

  • The Micro Credit and Saving project in Binh Dai district was launched by MCNV and sponsors in 2009.
  • The project has been expanded to 11 communes and townships, providing financial services and facilitate socio-economic inclusion for over 5,000 disadvantaged and poor women, supporting household economy development, response to saltwater intrusion and new rural development.
  • The project has so far provided 954 households with loan to construct their own water containers. From the beginning of the year, 149 households have received the supports, leading to more registration for loan. 
  • Nowadays, the project has become financially self-sustained, and is being conducted with the permission of the State Bank of Vietnam, Ben Tre provincial branch.
Read more

Skill training benefits members of credit groups in Binh Dai (Ben Tre province)

15 credit group leaders and prospective clients of the Micro Credit and Saving project in Binh Dai district, Ben Tre province have recently completed a 3-day workshop on microfinance skills.

The three-day workshop equips trainees with relevant knowledge and skills.

The training aims to provide trainees with relevant knowledge in micro credit, including the access to loan, financial services and the effective use of capital, contributing to poverty alleviation and economic development in the locality.

During the three-day workshop (February 17-19th), local-based project coordinators helped 15 trainees gain fundamental understanding of ‘credit’, ‘credit group’ concept ; provided guidance on how to develop, manage and coordinate credit groups as well as introduction to Microfinance (purpose, target clients, loan policy, etc).

The workshop also included a Q&A session, in which the trainers provided answer for trainees’ enquiries on how to solve the problems they encountered while leading/participating in a credit group.

In addition, the trainees were also instructed on bookkeeping, as well as other skills in a field-trip to learn about credit management in real life.

Better financial knowledge and skills can help change the lives of many women and their families.

“We expect that all of the trainees will become helpful assistants of Binh Dai district project management board in the time to come”, said Ms.Vo Thi Be Hai, Deputy Head of the Project management board.

  • The Micro Credit and Saving project in Binh Dai district was launched by MCNV and sponsors in 2009.
  • The project has been expanded to 11 communes and townships, providing financial services and facilitate socio-economic inclusion for over 5,000 disadvantaged and poor women, supporting household economy development, response to saltwater intrusion and new rural development.
  • Nowadays, the project has become financially self-sustained, and is being conducted with the permission of the State Bank of Vietnam, Ben Tre provincial branch.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

http://knowledge4food.net/research-project/scaling-up-nutrition-sensitive-agricultural-initiatives-in-vietman-and-laos/

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more