On Wednesday, I paid a visit to the Vietnamese Bee Research Centre (BRC). It’s located in the same district of Hanoi (Tu Liem) as the IRRI office but tucked away on a quiet street beyond a river and a green interlude in the urban intensity, it feels a world away from the dust and traffic of 6-lane Pham Van Dong.

Worker bees on a frame from a nuc hive with a newly emerged queen. She's camera shy and quicker than me, and not where she was a moment before the shot was taken. Can you spot her?

After hearing of bee losses and empty boxes from some of the farmers in My Loi, I was interested to do some fact-finding on the state of beekeeping in Vietnam. Turns out it’s a big industry here: Vietnam is one of the world’s largest honey exporters (largely to the USA), exporting $75million worth of honey in 2016. The country hasn’t yet managed to establish a brand for itself (think Manuka), and most of the honey is exported on a low-margin, high volume basis. (Despite the non-descript nature of the exports, it's possible to find lots of different honey varieties here - coffee blossom, longan, lychee, acacia etc - and Cat Ba Forest Flower honey, a speciality of Cat Ba island fetches high prices.)

Staff at the BRC inspecting hives at their queen-rearing apiary.

For small farmers, beekeeping on a scale of maybe half a dozen hives can be a profitable side-enterprise, and at that scale does not require migrating colonies to follow nectar sources. It is also suitable to keeping the native Apis cerana, notwithstanding its tendency to abscond. Commercial beekeepers tend to use bees of European origin, Apis mellifera.

The BRC have developed what seems to be a really thorough and well thought out participatory system for training farmers, and have already worked in a neighbouring districts of Ha Tinh province, where beekeepers suffered large colony losses last year due to flooding. Maybe it’s something that could be integrated with the CSV model in My Loi?

For more on participatory beekeeping training, see the following interesting youtube video:

 

Paul Hawken’s (ed.) new book on the options for reversing global warming seeks to overcome and reorient the ‘game over’ feelings of hopelessness that sometimes set the tone of dialogue about humanity’s and the planet’s current situation.

Recognising a gap in the literature - there’s no plan - Hawken assembled a team to develop one, focusing on the most promising practices and technologies that could be employed to ‘reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon within thirty years’.

There’s some marketing speak here. Clearly, there are a multitude of plans for mitigating climate change, but perhaps not a single one that incorporates all the little pieces. In the blurb on the website, the Drawdown team acknowledge as much: ‘All solutions modeled are already in place, well understood, analysed based on peer-reviewed science, and are expanding around the world.’

There has also been some criticism of the book in that it is not sufficiently detailed, or laid out in a project management sense, to call itself a plan at all. I'll come back with my verdict on that when I get to the end of it.

In the meantime, you can order the book yourself from the website, and here’s an interesting interview with Hawken about the project:

Paul Hawken’s Plan to Fix the Climate, With or Without Paris Pact

 

A simple street-side dinner in Hanoi costs about 30,000 dong. A few people, a couple of beers, and you're quickly into hundreds of thousands. A months rent is probably 5 million plus.  Sounds like a lot, but it's actually not, and while there is probably a reason, so far nobody has been able to explain to me very well the rationale for not just taking three zeros off everything and going from there.

After consistently mixing up my ten-thousand and hundred-thousand notes for the first few days after arriving (oh, yes, sorry, five zeros, not four ... xin lỗi, chị), it's been pretty easy to get into the hang of the denominations and converting back to euros. (At the moment, 1 euro is somewhere around 25,000d, so your noodle-soup dinner sets you back just a little over a euro.)

The wad of notes and squinting at zeros in the early hours dim-lit back of a taxi may soon be a thing of the past though as Vietnam has set its sights on becoming a (almost) cashless society by 2020. That seems like a big leap to make. Until quite recently many people here didn't have bank accounts, and it is still a common practice to buy gold for the hidden stash in the back yard as a way of saving (outside of the banking system and sidestepping inflation losses).

A growing number of farmers in Vietnam have access to smartphones.

The rate of smartphone use in the country is rising rapidly and this will be a big factor in enabling the transition. It also introduces huge potential in the area of agricultural innovation - whether in relaying weather and pricing information, or providing access to practical knowledge on cultivation techniques or husbandry. Examples of how ICT can have a transformative impact on the lives of farmers are already being seen around the world:

ICT based agro-advisory services in Climate-Smart Villages in Nepal

M-Farm

In fact, if agriculture is going to have any hope of playing its part in reaching the 2 degree target of the Paris Agreement, it is widely acknowledged that an improved knowledge dissemination infrastructure will be an essential part of the process. In writing on the huge challenge, Eva Wollenberg et al say that:

Strong technical assistance for farmers, including farmer innovation hubs, two-way technical support via cell phones, web-based information portals, and farmer-to-farmer exchange, will be essential to foster changes in behavior and locally relevant options.

The photovoice project in My Loi strives to be a small part of this (farmer-to-farmer exchange, locally relevant options) but it is clear that major innovations are required if the roll-out of CSA practices introduced to climate-smart villages is to take place on an impactful scale.

Note: Since I posted this, I learned that the heat index in central Hanoi reached 55 degrees over the weekend. Heat index is calculated using a combination of temperature and humidity: "In the central area of Hanoi, near Hoan Kiem Lake, the humidity is usually higher than its surroundings, and the combination of temperatures as high as 41°C (105.8°F) with humidity values near 50% made the heat index an unbearable 55°C (131°F)." Source

I spent more time than usual on a motorbike taxi today while going round trying to find a replacement air-con remote control for the one I broke yesterday. It was hot hot hot, and I wasn’t going home until I found one.

High of 41, 35 and smoke at 8pm.

The quality of the bike-taxi drivers in Hanoi is pretty variable. With some you think, as you unlock your fingers from the grab rail and free your sunglassses from the back of the driver's helmet, ‘I would’ve sweated less if I’d just walked’. With others, you can relax in the presence of a master. Today it was mostly the latter, and I got to thinking about how the traffic system here works. On one level, it all seems a bit random and indefinite. Traffic flow directions and red lights seem to function more as suggestions than outright rules. The result is that the drivers – bikes and cars alike - are in a constant state of negotiation with everyone around them.

A lot of the bikes - mostly something like a 110cc Honda Wave – don’t even have mirrors fitted. Drivers cross lanes, squeeze into tiny gaps, stop short of junctions suddenly to avail of the shade offered by a street-side tree, and hop kerbs at busy times, all the while using the horn for communication in what might be called, in a pretentious moment, ‘a mobile, polyvocal negotiation of shared space’. Basically, it’s noisy and people go around each other.

Surprisingly enough, it seems to work. And interestingly, that notion of a ‘shared space’ for traffic is something that has been tried in the Netherlands and some UK and US cities aiming for less car-centric and more pedestrian-friendly streets. The pedestrian-friendly bit still has room for improvement in Hanoi, and maybe the effect hasn’t quite been planned, but it’s an interesting change from the more straightforward and less-pliable traffic of most western cities where the car is boss – ‘This is my lane and I have a green light and I will go’.

Anyhow, I got my remote and happily have cool air again in which to sit listening to the negotiation outside.

For more, check out the link and videos below:

Where the Sidewalk Doesn’t End: What Shared Space has to Share