Viet Nam: Thach Soal, vegetable farmer

Thach Soal, vegetable farmer in Viet Nam

Viet Nam is one of the countries that is worst affected by climate change. In five provinces along the Mekong Delta, GIZ has been assisting coastal inhabitants since 2011 to safeguard themselves against increasingly extreme weather events. Some of the coastal protection measures commissioned by the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) target the restoration of mangrove forests. Around 320 hectares have already been reforested. One of the villages benefiting from this is Au Tho B. Vegetable farmer Thach Soal, 67, tells us how:

What is the main source of income in your village?

Most people in Au Tho B earn a living as farmers, growing rice, onions or vegetables. In addition, the villagers also go fishing or collect fuel wood – for their own needs or to sell at the market.

What function does the mangrove forest have for Au Tho B?

It's vital to our existence – for a long time villagers did not realise this. Being poor meant that previously they took less care of the environment. They overfished the seas. And when there weren't enough fish, they chopped down mangrove trees. After a while, the forest was so decimated that it was no longer able to hold back the storm surges anymore. The sea destroyed our homes and flooded our fields, leaving them full of salt and unable to grow anything. We were forced to relocate.

Did the destruction lead to a change in thinking?

In 1997 we began to replant mangroves. Gradually the forest is starting to spread again. The strip between the coast and the village now measures 500 metres. But the newly planted mangroves had a hard time in the beginning. Even though it was forbidden to cut them down, some villagers continued to do so. We had to guard the forest day and night. But gradually we were able to convince the local people they had to change their behaviour.

How can you guarantee that the restored forest will survive?

We have set up a conservation group that organises the way the mangrove forest is managed and that also works with the local authorities. Everyone who lives here can join in. In fact, the group now has 1,300 members. Once a month we get together and exchange information.

Could you name some specific improvements brought about by mangrove conservation?

We have reached an agreement with the local authorities: only members of the mangrove conservation group are allowed to catch seafood or collect deadwood in the mangrove forest – and we have some clear rules on how to go about this. As a result, we have more trees and animals today. And our income has increased by half since then. We now know that we stand to benefit if we protect the forest together. And that's why we are doing it of our own free will.

Ready for harvesting. Vegetable farmer Thach Soal inspects his bitter melons.

The village Au Tho B in Viet Nam's Mekong Delta is famed for its onions.

Farmers have to prevent their fields from being flooded by seawater to stop them becoming barren.

The mangrove forest offers natural protection against climate-change-induced flooding. Reforested, it is now helping to keep back the sea.

Thach Soal and other villagers have purchased mangrove seeds and seedlings.

Together the villagers plant mangroves in bare patches in the forests to help the forest grow more densely.

Where trees now stand side by side, there was nothing left of the mangrove forest in the 1990s, which was when Viet Nam's authorities started the reforestation programme.

It takes a lot of hard work and persuasion to get the villagers to join in forest replanting and to keep them from chopping down trees.

In the meantime, one third of Au Tho B's inhabitants are members of a mangrove conservation group that meets regularly and cooperates with the authorities.

Posters are used to explain the situation and to get people to join in: ‘We need your ideas for our conservation plan!’

There are rules for mangrove conservation and anyone who wants to go to the coast has to abide by them. Access is now strictly limited so that plant and animal life can recover.

Members of the mangrove conservation group are allowed to enter the forest. Everyone else has to use the bamboo walkway.

For Thach Soal, the future of his village is linked to the mangrove forest.

The 67-year-old passes on his convictions to the village children. 'The mangroves are our life. When we have no more trees left, the village will die.'