What would you do?

Suppose you live in rural Vietnam and you have a set amount of land on which to grow crops – usually rice. Yet every year you cannot grow enough food to feed your family for the whole year. 


Even though you live near a national forest, you cannot legally grow or harvest food in its strictly protected areas. You have a pig and some chickens at home, but you can’t rely on them growing or staying healthy. How are you going to feed your family or pay medical and school fees? 


Will you do what Hà Thi Phương Thuy’s parents did? They moved several hours away to Hanoi to find work, leaving their (pictured) daughter to live with her grandmother, Dinh Thi Hanh, and her grandfather. Or will you risk prosecution and get food from the forest? 


Perhaps you will try to get odd jobs working for other people, like Bàn Văn Quân does. He carries wood to earn a bit of money but only carries it on one shoulder because the collar bone on the other side has been broken and hasn’t healed well. You probably aren’t going to earn enough to pay school fees for your children.


Suppose one day you learn that meetings will be held in your village where you can learn about new ways to increase the amount of food you produce. An agriculturalist, such as Ha Van Tam, will present trainings that are free because Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam, with funds from the Food Resources Bank, is paying for them. Will you go?


For example, you can learn how to raise healthier chickens.


You can learn how to build a tall, bamboo chicken house under the trees to keep the chickens cooler (and healthier) in the hot, humid climate. You will learn what to feed them and how to protect them from diseases.


If you are one of the farmers selected by need to receive free chicks, you will soon have eggs to eat, to sell and to hatch. Since you will be raising a more expensive breed of chicken, sold for $7 to $10 each, perhaps you can do what Đặng Văn Suôi wants to do – raise chickens to sell so that he can buy enough rice to supplement his crops.


Speaking of rice, if you live in Vietnam, you will rely on rice as your daily food and primary source of sustenance. Ban Thi Minh, leader of the Women’s Union in Xoan Village, said she collected two more sacks of rice than she did in the previous harvests after she learned to make and use compost with rice straw, forest leaves, buffalo manure and an enzyme at an MCC-supported training. She said that 10 families who initially opposed the time it took to compost, began composting when they saw her fertile rice field.


​You may be willing to try composting, right?  But what about composting human feces? In Bãn Thi Minh’s concrete latrine, the right section is full of ash and feces and closed tightly so no smell is released and so no moisture can enter to disrupt the composting process. During the four to six months it takes for compost to develop, the left section is filled with fresh feces while the center is for urine. Minh, who is already a believer in the technique, tells naysayers to watch and see the results.


No matter how well nourished the soil is in your rice fields, the rice also needs water. Will  you work with your neighbors to haul cement from the nearest town, over unfinished roads and foot trails, so you can build a dam over Xoan Stream? Will you work together for  a week with 40 neighbors so that you can have more water in your rice paddy? 


You probably will if, like Bãn Văn Sinh, leader of Xoan Village, you harvested about 40 more pounds of rice with reliable water than you did without it. Before building the concrete dam, irrigation was sporadic because the temporary dams they built with rocks would wash away five and six times a year. Now water is piped consistently from the dam to the rice fields.


But then you remember the rats – rats that like to eat the tender rice seedlings. What to do? How are you going to harvest enough rice to eat if you are sharing your crop with rodents? (Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricefield_rat)


You trap them, of course. Well, if you prefer, you can leave it to the experts from each of the six villages that took MCC-supported training to learn about rat behavior. The rat catchers learn to identify the paths rats travel to the rice paddies and strategically place traps at the intersections of these paths.


Ban Van Hung is one of the rat trappers for Xoan Village. He and four others were given 20 traps each. During rice growing time, the trappers go out three times a week and reset the traps, repositioning them to match the changing rat transit habits. Hung said he stopped counting the number of rats he caught after he reached 200 within a year. Why do it? His family grills and eats the big ones and he boils the small ones for the pigs.


Speaking of pigs, will you go to a pig raising training if your rice field only produces enough rice to eat for three to four months? Chu Thi Luyen would. Her husband has to leave home for a month or two at a time to earn extra money. Luyen figures if she can breed and raise enough healthy pigs, her husband can stay home and help her manage the growing business. (MCC Photo/Le Dac Phuc)


What will you do to feed your children? Whatever you can, right!? So do the people in the six villages in Tan Son District, where MCC is honored to work — encouraging and supporting families as they earn a living through agriculture.  

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