A bamboo conservation initiative creates a new future for a Vietnamese community
Written by Marie Trémolet, Programme Assistant, Equator Initiative, UNDP
“During the war, defoliant chemicals eroding tree covers were used to deprive Vietnamese from concealment. Yet, bamboo resisted these attacks and was used to rehabilitate the land after the war”, says My Hanh Diep Thi, founder of the Bamboo Village of Phu An in the Binh Duong province of Viet Nam.
Phu An’s location is suitable for agriculture. Bamboo, cashew, fruit and rubber trees constitute the basis of local livelihoods. Proximity to the Saigon River enables the village to benefit from the abundant biodiversity found by and on the riverbank. Yet forests within the area were severely degraded during the Viet Nam War and unsustainable harvesting techniques and pressure on bamboo forests contributed to environmental decline. Faced with a lack of opportunities and mismanagement of natural resources, the villagers suffered from high rates of poverty.
In 1999, My Hanh Diep Thi, a native of Phu An village and a doctor in environmental ecology, set out to change this grim outlook. She founded the Bamboo Village of Phu An. Its mission is to restore the region’s bamboo biodiversity through research, knowledge and active community involvement.
“Our vision is to transform the iron triangle into a green triangle through bamboo conservation”
My Hanh Diep Thi, President, Bamboo Village of Phu An
Bamboo for climate and livelihoods
“Bamboo has a role to play in protecting the environment and in the fight against climate change. It is a champion of sustainable development,” says My Hanh. Due to its rapid growth and hardiness, bamboo can be harvested every year from five years after planting. It is therefore particularly suited for landscape restoration and control of soil erosion. Bamboo is also an ideal plant to sequester carbon – and thus has a high potential to address climate change.
The Bamboo Village houses more than 350 species of bamboo and serves as a research center. The community’s main activity consists of biodiversity conservation with the Bamboo Eco-Museum and Botanical Conservancy. To enhance the value of bamboo species, their effectiveness is tested for wastewater management, carbon sequestration, and treatment of contaminated soil.
The Bamboo Village provides trainings on agricultural practices and shares knowledge, helping the community to farm better. Farmers are taught about the importance of cutting bamboo after they reach full maturity. Techniques to improve soil fertility are also promoted – such as earthworm composting and sowing nitrogen-fixing plants. With this support, local families have substantially increased their bamboo production and rehabilitated degraded lands.
In addition, villagers have been trained how to transform bamboo into other products, such as furniture and handicrafts, supplementing their income. Since its inception, the initiative has significantly improved household incomes. The poverty rate in the village has plummeted. In recognition of these efforts, Phu An Bamboo Village was awarded UNDP’s Equator Prize in 2010.
Education for change
More than offering training for better economic opportunities, the Bamboo Village is committed to educate the next generation to become environmental stewards. Reflecting on her own experience working in academia, My Hanh says, “teaching environmental consciousness to university students might be too late, the ideas are already fixed. Targeting school-aged children is critical to develop a consciousness at an early stage. Children are also an effective vector to pass on a conservation ethic to their parents.”
The Bamboo Village offers field trips to children from across the country and classes take place on a weekly basis on environmental protection and waste management. The community runs a program to host university students in the natural science sector. “In one day they learn as much as during one month in the auditorium!” says My Hanh.
The work of the Bamboo Village of Phu An shows the power of biodiversity conservation and sustainable rural livelihoods, when teamed up with education. Growing bamboo sustainably has not only supported many families to achieve a better life, but also helps achieve climate goals, and is part of the education of future generations. It’s a win-win-win triangle, and a conversion. In My Hanh’s words, from “the iron triangle into a green triangle”.