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Why do farmers still grow corn on steep slopes in northwest Vietnam?

Zimmer, Heidi C., Le Thi, Hanh, Lo, Duc, Baynes, Jack, Nichols, J. Doland
Agroforestry systems 2018 v.92 no.6 pp. 1721-1735
agroforestry, alternative crops, annuals, corn, crop yield, farmers, forest trees, fruit trees, grasses, households, hydroelectric power, income, input costs, interviews, rural poverty, sustainable land management, topographic slope, Vietnam
Intense cultivation of annual crops on steep slopes in northwest Vietnam has resulted in widespread and severe erosion. This has led to myriad problems including siltation of dams critical for hydroelectricity generation, and increasing levels of rural poverty due to declining crop yields. The solution to these problems is sustainable land management, in particular sloping land agricultural technologies. Our study focuses on defining, and finding solutions to, a second-order problem: that farmers are reluctant to adopt sustainable land management practices, despite numerous projects demonstrating their effectiveness. Interviews with farmers in northwest Vietnam confirmed that intense corn cultivation on steep slopes provided the majority of income for most households. The financial security associated with growing corn (compared to alternative crops) was the deciding factor in land management choices. However, interviews also revealed that farmers were dissatisfied with growing corn because of low income and high input costs. Farmers’ replies indicated that they thought they had no alternative to growing corn. However, farmers were aware of alternative crops, and were particularly interested in growing grass, fruit trees and timber trees, although few farmers were keen to be first to adopt these alternative species extensively. Further research is required on development of production-to-commercialization chains for alternative crops, and more generally, to find ways to increase farmer financial security during transition to sustainable land management.