Balancing food security and environmental conservation
in the uplands: Vietnamese experience
Le Quoc DOANH, Pham Thi SEN
Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (NOMAFSI, Phu Tho, Phu Ho, Vietnam)
In the uplands, representing three-fourths of the inland territory of Vietnam, agricultural production faces great difficulties. In particular, in the northern mountainous region (NMR), comprising 15 northernmost provinces with a total area of 10.1 million hectares, the rapid reduction in per capita agricultural land area, degradation of land, depletion of natural resources, increasing frequency and severity of natural calamities, poorly developed infrastructure and limited capacity cause increasing problems for food production and environmental protection.
In this context, various approaches and measures have been taken simultaneously for both food security and natural resources conservation in the NMR, including: (1) improvement of crop varieties and cropping patterns for increased food production; (2) development of sustainable cultivation techniques for sloping lands towards improved land productivity and conservation; (3) development of sustainable agroforestry systems for both economic and environmental benefits; and (4) development of animal husbandry and other cash regeneration activities towards increased household income. As a result, food security has been obtained in many locations concurrently with improved environmental and natural resources protection. A significant increase in forest coverage and perennial plant area was obtained in parallel with a growth in food production and household income.
The application of advanced techniques together with improved high yielding varieties dramatically raised the yield of crops and the number of per year crop seasons. From 1995 – 2009, crop yield increased 5-8% annually, and the area of double and triple cropping lands also increased. Correspondingly, both the total and per capita food production increased while exploitation pressure on sloping lands and forests for food production was reduced. This, in turn resulted in increased area of sloping lands planted to perennial plants, and also the area for natural forest regeneration. The adoption of sustainable cultivation techniques on sloping lands, such as mulching, mini-terracing, intercropping and cover-cropping, however, is still very limited due to the low adoptability of these techniques and limited awareness of communities.
Thus, despite great achievements obtained in balancing food security and environmental conservation, soil erosion and land degradation still remain serious threats to environmental stability and sustainable agriculture in the NMR of Vietnam. Further efforts, therefore, need to be focused not only on technical and varietal aspects, but also on building capacity and awareness.
Key words: Northern mountainous region, Vietnam, food security, natural resources, sloping land, sustainable agriculture, NOMAFSI