11th Feb, 2006: HA NOI - A development initiative that saw 90ha of low-yielding farmlands converted into lucrative aqua-culture areas has enabled poverty-stricken farmers in Dong My Commune on the outskirts of Ha Noi to escape poverty and raise the quality of life of the community as a whole.
The conversion helped reduce the rate of poor households in the area to just 0.8 per cent last year, with families earning VND100 million in revenue annually per aqua-culture hectare.
Since 2000, local authorities have been studying non-effective fields and brainstormed with farmers, leading them to turn formerly cultivated land into an aqua-cultural success story.
The established technological infrastructure in the area, which includes a newly upgraded electricity network and asphalt roads, proved to be ideal for the development of aquaculture.
"This [infrastructure] is of great advantage to aqua-culture production and breeding units," a villager said.
Two large pumping stations and three smaller units were built in the commune, ensuring water year-round for both conventional farming and aqua-culture, with a local concrete canal system supporting the aqua-culture fields.
In 2004, the city approved VND14 billion to build a high-quality aqua-cultural field that also serves as an eco-tourism site.
Communal authorities furthermore invested in building a large pumping station that transports water from the Hong (Red) River, ensuring a steady supply of water for the expanded aquaculture area.
They also rebuilt ponds and lakes for aqua culture and organised local people to take part in a bidding process to acquire land.
To get started, farmers who registered for aqua-culture projects were able to take out loans from banks like the Bank for Social Policies and the Agriculture and Rural Development Bank. Other local farmers were able to borrow with preferential interest rates from the farming development fund of the cityís Agriculture Promotion Centre and the Farmersí Association.
The aquaculture area now covers 90ha, up from 32ha in 2001. As a result, most farmers said they had been able to triple their income.
Every year, training courses on aquacultural technology and environmental hygiene methods for farmers have been presented by the communal authorities. Water quality was examined by experts before it was declared safe for use in the fish-breeding areas.
Livestock feed processed by breeders costs 20 per cent lower than that processed at industrial units, but the quality remains guaranteed.
Chairman of the communal Farmersí Association, Nguyen Van Lien, who owns an aquaculture area spanning only 1 hectare, said he earned VND150 million annually from jointly raising fish and breeding pigs.
Nguyen Van Ngam, 56, a retired soldier and father of four, has been farming an 8,000sq.m aquaculture area that he won in a bid in 2002.
Ngam said that technology provided by the Agricultural Promotion Centre helped increase his earnings to VND70 million last year from VND40 million in 2003. His family now earns enough money to send all four of his children to district schools.
Last year, Dong My Communeís breeders harvested 600 tonnes of aqua-cultural products, with a total revenue of VND15 billion.
The monthly average per capita income increased to VND386,000, three times higher than in 2000.
However, local aqua farmers expect that the city will help them establish a concentrated consumption market and soon approve their proposal to set up agricultural enterprises aimed at establishing Dong My trade-mark products.