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In Viet Nam’s Central Highlands, women have the potential to play a key role in restoring degraded lands. Until recently, however, women seldom joined in local government efforts to promote restoration. By involving government officials in research, awareness creation and training, Tropenbos Viet Nam managed to convince them to focus their support on women-led agroforestry models for restoration.
Large areas of forest lands in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam are severely degraded. In theory, these lands can be restored through agroforestry. In practice, however, restoration has been slow to happen. The government’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has been supporting restoration efforts by providing extension services and training to smallholders, but these efforts seldom included women. According to Tropenbos Viet Nam, this was a missed opportunity, because among the ethnic minorities living in the area, it is typically the responsibility of women to plant trees, especially on the lands surrounding the house.
To identify possibilities for women-led restoration, Tropenbos Viet Nam conducted an assessment of agroforestry models that are suitable to the ecological context of the degraded areas, and to the traditions and needs of women farmers in the Central Highlands. They did this in close collaboration with Tây Nguyên University and DARD. The assessment resulted in a recommended mixed model of coffee and several indigenous tree species, offering both short- and long-term benefits in the form of cash income and food.
Tropenbos Viet Nam then discussed the outcomes of the assessment in a workshop with provincial and district government agencies, which resulted in the DARD offices in Lắk and Krông Bông — two districts with large areas of degraded lands — signing a decree that formally supports the recommended coffee-based agroforestry model. This decree opened the door for Tropenbos Viet Nam to work together with local DARD officers, who provide extension services in the villages and are trusted by the local people. Throughout 2021 Tropenbos Viet Nam and the DARD offices in both districts jointly organized a range of training sessions and workshops. The training provided practical guidance on coffee-based agroforestry, focussing primarily on female-led households of ethnic minority groups.
During a field visit in late 2021, Tropenbos Viet Nam staff observed that the female farmers who had received the training had not only started intercropping coffee and indigenous tree species, but had also spontaneously started passing on their knowledge to other people in their communities. Moreover, the staff found that the government was sending DARD extension officers into the communities to provide more training in coffee-based agroforestry to female farmers.
The experience shows that Tropenbos Viet Nam was able to change government officials’ perspectives on gender roles by actively engaging them in a process involving research, awareness raising and field-level training. As a result, local government extension officers are now providing women in the country’s Central Highlands with practical support for coffee-based agroforestry that delivers both short- and long-term benefits, building on women’s experience as tree planters around their houses.
This article is part of the TBI Annual review 2021,
due for release in July 2022