Interview with farmer from the More Trees Project

The last two weeks on CISU’s Instagram we have been following Bachelor Student Mikkel on his study tour to Ha Tinh Province in Vietnam.

Mikkels’ article was also presented on the CISU Instagram account. – This might also be of interest internally to CISU, as CISU has been one of the donors of the More Trees Project.

In future, please also follow DFE’s own Instagram account – and do share the images in your network.

DFE’s Instagram can be found here: 

Interview with Mr. Le Thi about his acacia plantations

By Mikkel Gantzler at Binh Son hamlet, Son Ham commune, Huong Son district, Ha Tinh, April 28th 2019. 

The 18th of April – 2019 Duong, my translator from Hanoi, and I travelled to Ha Tinh in the Central North Vietnam to measure Acacia hybrid-plantations and interview the farmers who own them. I aimed at visiting a total of 9 plantations; 3 plantations of respectively 3, 6 and 9 years. The objective of measuring the trees was to eventually estimate growth, yield, economic gain and carbon sequestration, whereas the interviews were to provide me with an understanding of why most farmers are cutting down their plantations at the age of 6. Almost all studies concerning Acacia-cultivation suggests leaving the plantations for at least 7-9 years in order to both increase economic gain and the amount of carbon sequestered in the trees.

Understanding the farmers economy and farming conditions
The ten days prior to the meeting the 28th of April Duong and I had been visiting several farmers with Acacia hybrid-plantations either 3 or 9 years old. In general, when the owners of the 3-year-old plantations were asked when they would cut down their plantations most replied that they would wait until they were at least 7 years or more. They had received loans from the cooperative to establish their plantations and were therefore willing to leave the plantations longer as they didn’t have a lot of capital tied up in the plantations. Whereas, the few owners of 9-year-old plantations replied that although having invested their own money in the plantations they were financially secured and therefore they didn’t need the capital and could afford to leave their plantations for 9 or more years. These owners owned 20 or more hectares of plantations, agriculture and husbandry compared to the majority who owned approximately 1-5 hectares.

Meeting Mr. Le Thi
Today however, I was going to meet the owner of a 6-year-old plantation Mr. Le Thi (name has been change, in order of privacy). Duong and I had made it a routine to meet 6:30 am every morning in the hotel lobby before heading to the field. After breakfast we would usually meet with either Trung or Que, both working for the cooperative at 7:00 am. They would show us the way to the plantations and introduce us to the owner. But the day before we had been visiting the neighboring farmer and therefore thought we didn’t need Trung or Que’s guidance. Without going in to detail we might have been overestimating our sense of direction. After going back and forth between very similar-looking households and rice paddies on the motor-bike we were borrowing from the cooperative we finally found Mr. Le Thi’s farmstead. Being a busy man Mr. Le Thi welcomed us briefly before guiding us to his plantation.

Another plantation visit
We stopped at the edge of the plantation where I got my recorder and my notebook out. During the past ten days I had made it a habit to ask simple and straightforward questions in the beginning of interviews to “warm up” the respondent. These questions would usually be something like: “How many seedlings did you plant per hectare?”, “How many hectares is the plantation” or “Have you done any thinning operations?”. They might seem like basic questions, but not only are they used to initiate the dialogue they also provide irreplaceable information, which is key when the results of the measurements are later analyzed.

Most income from acacia plantations
In the same manner I asked Mr. Le Thi a number of questions before getting to the core of the interview. When I asked him, how much of his income he figured came from the plantations, Mr. Le Thi was the first respondent to give me a very clear answer: “Let me break it down into annual income. I make 30 million VND per year from the Acacia-plantations and 20 million VND from rice-cultivation and husbandry – let’s say pigs and chickens.”

A total annual income of 50 million VND corresponds to approximately 1,900 euros where more than 50 % of this comes from the plantations.

Need of capital
Before this interview I knew that the farmers were financially dependent on the plantations, but I had no idea that the plantations were such an essential part of their livelihood. Of course, my next question was:  Why did Mr. Le Thi not leave the plantations for longer, knowing this would potentially increase his annual income? – Mr. Le Thi replied: “We need capital! If I leave it until say 8 years, I know the acacia trees will get bigger and we can earn more money.” Mr. Le Thi was completely aware that he would make more money, if he left the plantations for longer, but he simply couldn’t afford to leave them. How can you wait 7, 8 or 9 years to get more money, when you need money after 6 years?

Establishing one hectare of Acacia hybrid-plantations costs about 20 million dong or 760 euros, which is a sizeable investment, considering Mr. Le Thi’s annual income – more than 30 %. Mr. Le Thi planted his trees almost 6 years ago, before the cooperative was established, and therefore he couldn’t borrow the money.

Increased amount of carbon
The interview with Mr. Le Thi really sums up why the Acacia-cultivators in Ha Tinh usually cut down their Acacia-plantations at the age of 6, as they can’t afford to have their investment tied up any longer. It also highlights the necessity of the cooperative in the goal of increasing rotation-length. Loaning the farmers capital for the majority of the investment without interest makes it affordable to leave the plantations for more years, and the outcome is eventually higher economic gain for the farmers, and an increased amount of carbon sequestered.

Future positive economic development
By the end of the interview, Mr. Le Thi underlined what a loan would mean for his future Acacia-cultivation: “…Now we need to harvest as we need the money. That won’t be a problem if we borrow the capital from the project!”