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Theme: Contextual Analysis for Action

Learning Objective: To improve participants' skills at analyzing the contexts for change.


Please review this experience in Viet Nam with a colleague or friend.

Before reading the project description, we encourage you to focus on the contexts for change highlighted below in the boxes on the left-hand side. In the boxes on the right-hand side, write three or four questions you would ask, if you were to review a communication and change initiative from the perspective in the left-hand box. Then, as a pair, work through the Hong Na commune example asking your questions at appropriate times.

Social Features

Your Questions

  • Interpersonal relationships.
  • Behavioural expectations in terms of gender, age, class, social position.
  • Expectations regarding who has access to knowledge and information.

Cultural Features

Your Questions

The behaviours and attitudes considered acceptable in given contexts.




Ethical and Spiritual Features

Your Questions

The influence of significant moral and spiritual belief systems which form the basis of personal and shared values.




Legal Features

Your Questions

Laws determining what people can and cannot do, and activities to encourage observance of those laws.




Political Features

Your Questions

Systems of governance in which change will have to take place. For example, in structure, political commitment, reliability, transparency, or capacity.




Resource Features

Your Questions

What is required to make things happen - covers human, financial and material resources, community knowledge and skills, and items for exchange.





This project works to reduce hunger and poverty in the Hong Ha Commune, by identifying ways to respond to the deforestation caused by defoliants and bombs during the Viet Nam War. The deforestation has led to devastating floods and the replacement of native vegetation by invasive grass species.

To address these problems, researchers at the Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry, are using participatory research methods to help local residents identify priorities, and develop innovative responses to their needs. Launched in 1998, with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the project team has also received technical support from the International Center for International Agriculture (CIAT), and the University of British Columbia.


Located on a branch of the former Ho Chi Minh Trail, a military-supply route used in the 1960s and 1970s by the North Vietnamese Army, the Hong Ha Commune - encompassing five villages - is the poorest of 21 communes in the Aluoi District of central Viet Nam. More than 45 percent of local households lack enough income to stave off hunger all year round.

The Hong Ha Commune is at the source of the Bo River, which supplies the agricultural plain of Thua Thien Province. During the war, the region was a frequent target of chemical defoliants and bombs, which destroyed much of its natural forest cover. Today, the native vegetation has been replaced by invasive imperata grasses, which are difficult to remove but must be cleared for agriculture or agroforestry. Moreover, the deforestation has led to devastating floods, both in the Aluoi District and in downstream areas.

The project evolved out of an earlier initiative conducted from 1994 to 1997, in the Xuan Loc Commune of Viet Nam's Hue Province. In this work, the research team helped local farmers improve their land management practices. The project introduced ecologically-sustainable agricultural techniques and higher-yielding crops, including new varieties of rice, cassava, mung bean, black bean and groundnuts. Some of the most useful techniques from this initiative have since been applied to the Hong Ha Commune project.

Traditionally, Hong Ha residents have depended primarily on slash-and-burn, otherwise known as swidden agriculture, for their livelihood. Other food sources have included hunting, animal husbandry and the gathering of forest products.

According to Le Van An, the project leader and Deputy Head of the Department of Science and International Relations at Hue University, the main goals are to gradually replace swidden agriculture with a home garden economy, limit forest destruction, diversify crop production and increase household income.


  1. Effects of war-time use of chemical defoliants and bombs have left the area deforested and susceptible to invader species and flood.
  2. This has made agriculture and agroforestry much more difficult.
  3. More than 45 percent of local households lack enough income to stave off hunger all year round.


University and technical expert researchers work closely with participating local households chosen through a survey, and a representative of each of the communes' villages and ethnic groups.


As a first step, the research team conducted surveys to assess the state of water, soil, agriculture, forestry, livestock and human resources in the region. The results showed that local residents face numerous obstacles ranging from a lack of capital for investing in agricultural production to inaccessible markets. These factors make it hard for farmers to sell their produce at decent prices. They are also hampered by: a limited number of crop-growing options, low-yield rice strains, inefficient pig rearing, low female participation rates in decision making, limited education, rapid population growth, decreasing natural resources, severe flooding, and unstable water resources.

Based on this survey, 17 households were initially selected for participation in the project. They included families from both the commune's five villages and its five ethnic groups. During planning meetings involving the research team and participating farmers, the partners agreed to conduct joint farmer-scientist trials to develop higher-yielding crops, and a strain of crossbred pigs that are better suited to the local environment. They also decided to introduce a greater variety of high-quality agricultural products for both field agriculture and home gardens.


While generally successful, the trials have not been problem-free. A flood damaged the trial crops and fish ponds. "Now the crops are harvested earlier before the rainy season, and are grown higher up in the mountain," says Le Van Hua, the commune's Chairman.

As part of its efforts, the university has held training courses to help participants improve their pig raising, rice management and cassava growing skills. These lessons have been disseminated further through farmer-to-farmer visits, which are considered very useful by local villagers.

Meanwhile, some residents have shared their experiences in gardening, livestock rising and fish ponds, and have started to experiment with new crops such as pineapples, black peppers and bamboo. As a result, the number of participating households is now more than 200.

Community members are increasing their food self-sufficiency and making better use of their land. "Before there was always a lack of food, now there's enough," notes Quynh Dien, a male farmer who participated in the trials.

"We now have high-yield rice, cassava, fish, pigs and a better standard of living," adds Mrs. Quyng Vuong. "I received a loan from the project. I bought fertilizer, pesticides and fingerlings. I've repaid the loan and used the profit to buy food, and send my children to school." "Every household wants to take part [in the training sessions]. When there is a training session with one family, many more come to learn," says Nguyen Hoai Nam, the commune's Communist Party leader. "Now we know how and when to use fertilizer. We know how to use pig sties, instead of letting pigs roam in the forest."

Among its goals, the project has strived to involve local women in agricultural production. For example, the local women's union has hosted workshops on farming methods. "Before, women were shy and didn't speak in meetings. We didn't know much about livestock and rice production. Now we speak what we think and share our experiences," says Quynh Vuong.

According to Le Van An, the farmers have played a key and enthusiastic role in the project's successes, by sharing their agricultural knowledge with the scientific team, and by participating in project planning, implementation and management - a major departure from previous government programs.

For example, local villagers participated in planning sessions concerning the construction of an irrigation system and a kindergarten. In the process, their own confidence and belief in their abilities has increased. "Farmers feel those activities belong to them, not just the researchers (and government officials), and are very excited," he says. Meanwhile, "the project has strengthened the research capacity of university staff. We have much to learn from the participatory approach."

One problem that still needs to be addressed concerns property rights - local residents lack full authority to manage the commune's natural resources. "We have organized meetings and invited people from provincial and district offices to discuss this. The way ahead is to develop a bottom up approach," argues Van An.

"We would like to spread our success story to other villages in the mountains," he concludes.


As a pair, work through the Hong Na commune example asking your questions at appropriate times.


Considering the Theme and Learning Objectives for this experience please list one or more lessons you think are important for your own work. Please list these on the chart in "Drawing Your Own Conclusions" p89.


Miriam Martinez & Nick Wilson. "Improving NRM in Viet Nam's Hong Ha Commune" Reports: Science from the developing world. International Development Research Centre February 2001.

Claire Thompson, Research Officer, CBNRM Program Initiative, International Development Research Centre (IDRC); PO Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. [email protected] 613 236 6163 ext 2069

For further information contact: [email protected] or visit the IDRC website at

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