By Le Thi Hong Phuong, PhD candidate and Prof Tran Duc Tuan
Creating networks and mapping of learning interactions
The mapping of learning interactions with the VACB farmer group in My Khanh community began at the start of the T-learning research project in Can Tho in 2016. As the blog about the co-defining matters of concern in Mekong Delta, Vietnam: case study in Can Tho city explains in order to create the conditions for the learning interactions among several stakeholders, particularly the VACB farmer group with outside stakeholders, our research established the local team with the researchers in Can Tho university and the key informants in the communities. Creating networks and mapping of the first learning interaction had in 2016 with the T-learning participants in Can Tho university, the researchers of the CDM project (Clean Development Mechanism), and JIRCAS project (Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences), and local authority (DARD, DONRE, DAE, CBOs, social civil groups). The aims of learning interactions were primarily to understand and explore the research contexts and matters of concern in the region. These participants from the university formed a local team with which we partnered and considered “T-teachers and T-stakeholders”. These participants were already familiar with the concept of learning community or continuous learning, therefore it is not difficult to encourage networks and mapping learning interactions via email, skype, facebook, or mobile phone. These interactions are considered the first round of learning interactions.
The second round of interactions, implemented between 2016 to September 2017, emerged in the first round of learning interactions and mostly took the form of networks . The networks of T-teachers and T-stakeholders, included key farmers in My Khanh community (are called “scientist farmers”) who were trained and self-studied to be the trainers in VACB model for other farmers and scientists in Can Tho University and attended in the T-learning activities in the community. The case of the “scientist farmers” is considered as a good germ cell for T-learning. This germ cell grows well and spreads learning activities on reducing energy consumption and using renewable energy in the community. This is due to factors such as response/willingness of the local people, the support of the project from the scientific and educational agencies (research institutes and universities), the international community and the involvement of local authorities as well. There were several informal talking, in-depth interviews, and participatory observation with the “scientist farmers” to deeply understand their matters of concern and the practical context of the communities, particularly the nexus of climate change – water – food – energy – social justice. The success of these “scientist farmers” and their innovations are important for the contextual profile for expanding learning and sharing. They also serve the function of a classroom where people can learn about the technology or exchange their knowledge and experiences. In addition, the second round of these learning interactions also has added the participants for the networks.
The third round for learning interactions involved creating the networks of the “scientist farmers” group. The participatory workshop was held in My Khanh commune, which were based on the reframing matters of concern and co-developing solutions to the communities in October 2017. The workshop, held on 12th October 2017, aimed to: (1) reconsider and examine how local people, especially farmers and government officials, understand climate change and in what ways climate change has posed impacts on their life and livelihood; (2) identification of popular climate-resilient agricultural models employed by farmers and investigate the process they have adopted and developed in their current farming model through which enduring lessons on social learning and transformative learning (T-learning) result naturally; (3) identification and examination of the difficulties and challenges facing local farmers in sustaining their current agricultural models (for example the VACB); and organization of an informal forum for local farmers to raise their awareness and their matters of concern over the climate change and environmental issues, fostering citizen science at a local level and networking with experts, scientists and the T-learning researchers. The workshop brought together 40 participants, including 28 local farmers selected from different villages around My Khanh commune, three local officials and experts, local authority, lectures and students from Can Tho university. At the workshop, participants have actively engaged in discussing and presenting different environmental issues facing their crops as well as their life.
The learning interactions contents in the communities and other stakeholders
The learning interactions among the T-teachers and T-stakeholders group focused on a collaborative analysis of the matters of concern of the communities have been facing, particularly the sustainable livelihood models in the climate change context. The next round of learning interaction focused on co-defining the matters of concern and engaging the farmers in developing of T-learning processes. The most important of learning interactions in several communications after the co-defining the matters of concern, focused on finding the solutions in techniques to adapt to climate change in relation to the production system and marketing issues that the farmers have been facing.
The solutions were co-developed including stabilizing the market, training how to use the finance efficiently, supporting of climate change adaptation policies through adaptation strategies and finance, learning community via cooperative and collaborative production (inputs and outputs – market issues). The participants in the learning interaction processes emphasised the importance of the “scientist farmers”, agricultural extension workers and facilitators for transforming knowledge, techniques, experience in VACB model and how to enable social learning of farmers and other stakeholders. These participants concluded that the conditions for efficient T-learning included: (1) collaborative production; (2) collective learning; (3) policy support; (4) supporting and consulting of scientists; and (5) stabilizing market issues.
During the workshop and other meetings, there has been sharing of knowledge and experience of participants and suggestions of T-teachers and T-stakeholders on what could be improved for increasing the efficiency of the sustainable livelihood models in the climate change context. The learning interactions involving farmers-to-farmers and experiential learning were critical to help the farmers in the communities see how suggested solutions will be implemented.
Some dialogues and stories during the learning interactions
The learning interactions about the climate change issues: “I feel that it is almost 2 times hotter than it was ten years ago”, Mr Liem, a 58-year-old farmer. While Mr Man, 57-year-old farmer, described that “climate change has happened, I can feel. Last ten years ago, our community did not have salinity in the river, but last two years, the salinity comes often in the summer season. This has created several difficulties for watering my orchards. In additional, I have grown the orchards for a long time, in recent year, the temperature and humidity are changing and result in more serious diseases”.
The learning interactions about the community environment: Some attendees agree that environmental degradation has become an emerging danger threatening their life and source of water supply – mostly this comes from the waterways crossing their village.
“In the past, we could drink water directly from rivers or pools while working in the rice fields. But in recent years, you see, the rivers are so dirty and heavily contaminated that we have to stop using, even for irrigation,” a man said.
Mr. Hai, the commune official responsible for agricultural affairs, added that the main sources of pollution basically came from industrial and agricultural activities. “While local authorities are trying to stop those emitters, local farmers are now exploiting the ground water for household use and irrigation.”
The learning interactions about the adaptation measures to respond to climate change: “Diversifying income sources are critical strategies to ensure the sustainable livelihood for my family. This is the reason why I have applied the VACB model. This model was encouraged from Can Tho university and local authority”, a woman said. “Before our garden only grew one kind of fruit, example orange. As you know, the market conditions now are very fluctuation and climate has been very uncertainty. So, now you can see, my garden has more than five kind of fruit. The disease and insect have been increased because of changing of temperature and humidity. Therefore, I must have some adjustments in my garden to follow these changes. I have learnt these strategies from Mr Hai Thanh”, an old man.
The particularly significant moments in the learning interactions process
There were several moments in the learning interactions process that we have seen and also gave us the emotion and motivation to develop T-learning, particularly for sub-urban community in the climate change context. These moments occurred during the informal conversations and the workshop. The other learning moments occurred during in small group discussions and the visiting farms of the “scientist farmers”. In the small group discussions, participants (farmers) feel comfortable and confident in the learning interactions to share and discuss their experiences as well as what they have learnt and explored by themselves. Especially, the visiting “scientist farmers” have been considered as the most significant moments in learning interaction process. The farmers can learn from each other and learn together through the practical work and the results of the pilot demonstrations. These results are the best experiences and lessons for T-learner to apply what they have learnt in their practice. For example, several farmers in the community have come to see and learn as well as discuss with the “scientist farmers” about the benefits of applying the VACB model as (1) deodorizing the smell of the animals, protecting the environment, reducing living expenses for people (minimizing the cost of gas – a gas tank 12kg is priced over 200 thousand VND, therefore using biogas in the long run will save a lot of costs, reducing fertilizer costs for crops; reducing the cost of food for fish, and reducing of electricity costs – can generate generators by gas generated from Biogas model). This has led to an increase in the adoption the VACB model of several farmers within the community (My Khanh commune) and outside the community (neighbouring communes). The learning interactions also occurred from the daily activities such as going to anniversaries, weddings, meetings, market or daily stories and the farm activities such as cultivating, harvesting, or selling agricultural products (fruit, pigs, fish, chicken…). In these informal communications, the learning interactions often focused on how the farm activities work, which problems or issues often faced in the farm activities and sharing their experiences to solve problems or issues. This has created an important part of the process of T-learning or one of the important potential germ cells for transformation processes that link with agricultural production (the sustainable livelihood models) and market issues.
The main role of T-teachers/facilitators in facilitating the T-learning interactions.
T-teachers/facilitators who have involved in our team have the main role in facilitating the T-learning interactions through creating the networks between T-learners, T-teachers, and T-stakeholders. T-facilitators also created the opportunities for learning interactions to take place. In the beginning, we mediated the learning processes and interactions during the initial meetings and created the network. But this role was shared with the local team and the “scientist farmers”. In addition, we drew on tools for group discussions (for example SWOT, colour card, brainstorming, narratives, photographer) and the guidelines (the detailed questions for each issue in each group discussions, the detail steps to facilitate each questions, etc.) for facilitation processes in learning interactions. We also found the technical researchers and collaboration with other projects/programs useful for developing the sustainable livelihood models to respond to climate change of Can Tho university and Can Tho city. They have the potential to assist the farmers to develop solutions to their problems or challenges. We are supporting the local team to improve and expand the space for T-learning processes among T-learners through the development of the research in using mass media and establishing group key informants from whom other farmers can access information, ask the questions or collaborate in their daily activities as well their farm activities.
The emerging issues from the early T-learning interactions
There are several emerging issues from the T-learning interactions about the sustainable livelihood models in the context of climate change in the Can Tho city. However, three critical issues at this stage include: (1) how to create the collaboration in agricultural production (from agricultural inputs to ensure the quality of agricultural products following the market demand and to respond to climate change context); (2) how to develop or create the network among four stakeholders: the state; the scientists; the entrepreneurs; and the farmers; and (3) how to develop a strong the agricultural contracts to help farmers in stabilizing the production scale and the types of crops/livestock.