Who hasn't been moved by a good story, right? A piece in Nature Climate Change in 2015 makes the case that the most effective way to mobilise public action on climate change would be to formulate a 'strategic narrative'. A kind of story of stories that would from the underlying motivational guide for individual actions in response to the planet's current crisis. It would be made up of aligned sub-stories with relevant take-aways for all manner of people, leading to a national, or even a global unification of effort under the guiding narrative, similar to the way America was unified (?) under the story of getting to the moon in the 1960s - the authors quoting a cleaner at NASA in 1962 who reportedly responded to President Kennedy's question about what he was doing with a quick 'I'm helping put a man on the moon'.

I'm not convinced. History has shown on numerous occasions how legitimate divisions and objections can be masked or disappeared under the imperatives of grand narratives, the 'art of rhetoric' being effectively co-opted to nefarious ends. In any case, the strategic narrative approach sounds like an impossibility in today's era of diversity, specialisation, and polarisation, and maybe that's a good thing.

If you've read some of the previous posts, you'll know that the farmers in My Loi pointed to severe rainfall, flooding events, erosion and landslides as some of the most severe impacts of climate change in their part of Ha Tinh province.

This week, further north in Vietnam (Yen Bai province, home to Ma CSV) was hit by severe floods that have left several people dead and significant damage to homes and public infrastructure. Hundreds of acres of crops have also been affected.


My first impression from going through the photographs and testimony of farmers in relation to climate impacts in Ky Son was that landslides and erosion more generally seemed to be the main complaint. A more thorough check of the data confirms that to be the case, almost matched however by problems of dry spells and high temperatures. 

Although erosion and landslides are obviously strongly linked to flooding, I've kept them separate in the pie chart - flooding here typically refers to shorter-term impacts such as loss of crops (similar to a how a dry, hot period may impact crops intra-seasonally), whereas landslides are typically irreversible. There were several farmers who pointed to complete loss of formerly productive land due to hillside and riverbank erosion and landslide:

Rough translation of caption for this image from Mr Nguyễn Văn Nhàn: Formerly a hill of acacia production, farming. But three years ago, due to the impact of rain and storms so the whole land was landslide and erosion. Now, nothing can be farmed on this land. This loss area is about 0.5 hectares of a household in the village.

On the positive side, preventive measures were also mentioned. Bamboo was cited by several people as a suitable tree for riverbank stabilisation, while methods of controlling hillside erosion and subsequent land loss were also mentioned. These include planting (elephant) grass on contour, more careful and well-planned acacia plantation management and harvest, and switching to perennial tree crops (orange and mandarin, for example) on hillsides.

Bamboo has been a traditional tree for maintaing river banks and has the co-benefit of providing material for handicrafts, as pointed out by Ms Le Thi Than:

Rough translation of Vietnamese caption: '... previously this land was used to grow peanuts. When (affected by) landslide, the family also studied with many people ahead of planting bamboo trees to prevent landslide and this is also one of the current solutions of the family. If using sandbags, it will not be effective and not economical due to the wide area of the landslide... Bamboo is used to prevent erosion, it is also used to create handicraft products such as basket weaving'

Phew, finally got to the end of the photovoice process - at least the practical part - and it was a hectic last week. With hindsight a two week window between the discussions and the exhibition would have been more manageable, especially considering the 16-hour round trips involved.

Mr Pham Huy Hoang with his photovoice presentation on the impacts of flooding in the area and remediation measures.

I travelled back to My Loi on the Tuesday night bus with Hamy and Trung, and all I could think with every jolt and shudder of the bus was that the prints we had in the hold were going to get wrecked, so it was a real relief when, at 4.30am, we pulled them out unscathed in Ky Anh. We crashed a couple of hotel rooms occupied by ICRAF staff already there and after an hour or two rest it was time to get busy with final day of prep in My Loi - setting up all the stands and photos, inviting the farmers who would present to come and practice (and trying not to get in the way).

Ms Le Thi Than practices her presentation with help of Hamy and Trung.

Thursday saw the event itself, hosted by ICRAF (World Agroforestry Centre) together with the Farmers Union, and it was bigger than I'd expected - a big outdoor stage with sound system, a canopy-covered seating area, dancing and singing performances.

In terms of CSA, the main presentations were the photovoice exhibition, and presentations on 3D models made by groups of farmers over the previous few days. The event was covered by local TV and other news media and from what I can gather, the response seems to have been positive. You can see a news report here.

Mr Nguyễn Văn Nhàn - Mỹ Tân village, presenting his photovoice poster.

Probably the most severe and oft-cited impacts of climate changes here in Ky Son province were the impacts of drought and heat, and severe rainfall events - with several participants reporting loss of formerly productive lands. Some participants pointed out the influence of forestry practices on slopes (clear-cutting of acacia) and the need for landscape-scale bank stabilisation, using bamboo, for example. I found the following image and caption particularly striking in relation to landslides and soil loss:

Rough translation of caption for this image from Mr Nguyễn Văn Nhàn: Formerly a hill of acacia production, farming. But three years ago, due to the impact of rain and storms so the whole land was landslide and erosion. Now, nothing can be farmed on this land. This loss area is about 0.5 hectares of a household in the village.
Viewing the exhibition.

Some feedback on the event:

Farmers' Union Representative:
My first impression about the photovoice exhibition is the photos themselves. They all look very attractive and provide a wide range of information, from the impacts of climate change to the adaptation in agriculture production.
Village head:
I think through the photovoice exhibition, the farmers in Ky Son commune and My Loi village learnt a lot. They can be aware of the current climate change situation and its impacts at the local level. In addition to the raised awareness, they also learnt about the CSA practices which can help to reduce those adverse impacts.
Overall, the CSA event was very well organized in a professional manner. And I'm very impressed by the proactive participation of the farmers and their beautiful photos. But you know, the photos are not only beautiful, they are also very meaningful.

... that requires an ability to manage—not control—ecological relationships".

That's farming, according to Freya Yost of A Growing Culture. Later this year, the organisation plans to open a Library for Food Sovereignty, storing and making available a repository of 'farmer innovations from around the world'.

30% of the farmers in My Loi that attended the photovoice training had smartphones, and judging by their responses to our questionnaires, they are ready and willing to take lead roles in generating and disseminating knowledge.

This sort of enterprise really seems like a step in the right direction, building from the ground up. It might still be out of reach for many (access-wise), but there is little doubt that connectivity will only rise in the coming years. Having said that, a shortage of knowledge is hardly ever the real problem - communicating pathways that make economic sense and align with people's life ambitions are equally important so that they have incentive to utilise and act on the knowledge that is available. Hopefully, this will be one library that will not be a silent zone.

The interview with Yost is here.