Vietnam Agricultural Science Institute
Analysis of agricultural environmental institutions in the north of Vietnam
Vu Trong Binh et al
In northern Vietnam, widespread environmental degradation has led to poor health and living conditions for farmers and decreased income from farming and craft production. The situation is complicated because environmental concerns are not given priority by inhabitants and institutions because of weak policies and legislation, low awareness and capacity of central authorities, and limited community participation in policy and decision making.
The Vietnam Agricultural Science Institute (VASI) carried out Participative Rural Assessments in the three northern provinces of Hai Duong, Ha Tay, and Son La. VASI worked with rural communities to identify and examine environmental problems related to agriculture and rural agro-industries and to propose solutions.
As an adjunct to these studies, a VASI team of specialists analyzed agricultural environmental institutions in North Vietnam, in order to assess the government resources available to improve rural environmental conditions.
The team selected major institutions at the province, district, commune, and village/hamlet levels. It then analyzed the organization, activities, technologies used, financial resources, and environmental awareness of these institutions. Finally it assessed management strengths and weaknesses and made proposals for improvements. The work was carried out in three zones: (a) a peri-urban zone in Ha Tay Province, (b) a rural area on the Red River Delta in Hai Duong Province, and (c) a rural area in the northern highlands of Son La Province. Questionnaires, interviews and a review of locally available literature were used to gather information at the different levels.
At the national level, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) has the authority and oversight to make laws and decrees to manage resources in the provinces. Its mandate includes environmental protection, issuing of permits, monitoring, annual reporting, research and education. Most of its 50 - 80 staff members are not well trained in environmental matters. Furthermore, funding does not meet real demands because the tasks are too many and too varied.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is in charge of environmental protection on farms, grazing and forest lands, and for groundwater and hydroelectric works. Farm chemical management and clean running water are among its responsibilities, as well as preserving the rural environment. The programs are hampered by the lack of knowledge and awareness among farmers of the importance of clean water and a clean environment. People in poor regions may want clean water systems, but lack the funds to pay for them. Another problem is the lack of harmonization among the legal documents used by different agencies.
At the provincial level, the Plant Protection Department oversees the farm chemical situation through monitoring and Integrated Pest Management training. Provincial Extension Centres are actively training farmers on good practices and technology, including biogas production from animal waste.
The Provincial Health Centre inspects drinking water systems and approves projects to supply clean water. Guidance is given in manure management, household hygiene, and waste water management. Many other provincial departments (e.g. Planning, Construction, Industry, Transportation etc.) however, also have roles in environmental management.
Informal groups at the provincial level contribute to environmental awareness through public communication and local projects, although their significance is seen to be minor.
In general coordination among provincial organizations is weak or ineffective. Insufficient staff and funding limit their effectiveness. Public support for environmental campaigns is weak because rural people are otherwise engaged in day to day work.
At the district level, a small staff of 5-10 members manages environmental matters with no operational budget. The health unit works on human health issues but not on non-household matters. The district agencies lack staff and funds and the national DNRE starts projects at the commune level without reference to the district offices.
At the commune level, there are no institutions officially responsible for environmental work, except for a few projects sponsored by national, provincial and district offices. The commune leader generally delegates environmental work to the commune medical station or to commune cadres.
Garbage collection, sweeping roads and cleaning ditches are among the activities at that level. In general, the commune activities are too small and scattered to be effective.
Although there are some commune regulations related to the environment, they are often ignored as there are no clear sanctions, rules of supervision, or institutional responsibilities for environmental management. Most work is done by volunteers.
At the village level, there are few regulations in place. Youth Unions and other volunteers carry out road and ditch cleaning. The People's Committee of the commune and the village leader are the most important actors fostering environmental management.
It was concluded that environmental management is not well organized particularly at the district, commune and village levels. There are many independent systems that overlap in their activities. Shortages of funds and staff limit the capacities of institutions to be effective and to supervise environmental works. Rules and penalties are not effective because they are not strict enough.
Recommendations include the improvement of vertical environmental management between levels, coordination and harmonization of the regulations of different institutions, increased delegation from DNRE to the provincial levels, the development, application and sanctioning of rules and penalties to curb infractions, and the attraction of more non-government organizations to participate in environmental activities.