By Le Thi Hong Phuong, PhD candidate and Prof Tran Duc Tuan

The context and history of the project sites in Vietnam case study

The T-learning research project in Vietnam is situate in the Mekong Delta. Located in southern Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is the biggest agricultural region of the country. According to General Statistic Organization (2010), there are 13 provinces with a population of around 17 million 80% of which is involved in agricultural farming. The Mekong Delta is located at the southernmost tip of Vietnam and is the site at which the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea. It encompasses an area of 39,200 km2 and accounts for 12% of the national area of Vietnam and 5% of the entire Mekong Basin area (Käkönen, 2006). Twenty-two percent of the population of Vietnam lives in the Mekong Delta and the population density of the Mekong Delta is 412 persons per km2. Agricultural land constitutes 75% of the Mekong Delta, most of which is dedicated to rice paddies. The Mekong Delta is considered as one of the three deltas most affected by climate change across the world. In the delta there are challenges arising from the nexus of climate change – water – food – energy –  social justice. However there are also examples of initiatives (germ cell activities) which present possibilities of moving towards sustainability, T-learning potentials (Tuan, 2016).

Two case study sites in Mekong Delta in Vietnam for the ISSC project on T-learning were identified after field visits in 2015 and 2016. The sites are are Can Tho city and Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve. We have chosen Can Tho city and the Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve in Mekong Delta as two case study sites of T-learning, because they present all nexus issues, and provide insights into challenges of learning for sustainability. The sites also which meet the two basic kinds of learning: instrumental and communicative learning. Instrumental learning focuses on learning through task-oriented problem solving and determination of cause and effect relationships. In this blog, we emphasize the co-defining matters of concern in Mekong Delta, Vietnam: case study in Can Tho city.

We selected the My Khanh community to explore the T-learning in Can Tho city because of three main reasons. Firstly, My Khanh is a typical rural community of the suburban district in Can Tho city. This community is in the process of transforming agricultural mechanics towards sustainable livelihood development in the context of climate change. Secondly, the My Khanh community has appeared, maintained, and been on the process of expansion and development of sustainable livelihood models to adapt to climate change. In several sustainable livelihood models, the VACB model is a practical and an effective solution for farmers to deal with climate change. Thirdly, the VACB model has been locally promoted and spread to other areas in Can Tho and some provinces not only in the Mekong Delta such as Bac Lieu or Hau Giang provinces, but also in the central provinces such as Thua Thien Hue or Quang Binh provinces.

The initial processes of engagement with the communities to co-define the matters of concern

transgressive learning interview

Indepth interview

The initial processes of engagement with the communities in Can Tho city were not easy because our main researchers did not live and work in the Mekong Delta. However, we have found the best way to engage with the communities by establishing one team including the researchers and key informants (local authority and the “scientist farmers”) who are living and working at Can Tho. The participants of this team comes from Can Tho University and have more experience, knowledge and understanding of the culture and lifestyle and hold good relationships with the communities at the My Khanh community. We communicate with this team via email and skype to exchange information. In order to build a relationship towards co-defining the matters of concern of the communities, we and the Can Tho his team spent time in the community, joined the community meetings and extension club meet

transgressive learning participatory observation

Participatory observation in the field

ings exploring the root of problems. In addition, we have organized a workshop, a survey, held in-depth interviews, engaged in informal conversation and participant observation with people in the communities that we have conducted the T-learning research. These activities have begun to form relationships through which we begin to understand the matters of concern.  This has created the emotion, the belief, trust, and deeper understanding of the culture, motivation, and needs of the communities. We see the existing relationships between us and the communities as the friends, neighbours, learners, or teachers.

The process to scope the matters of concern with the communities

Before we started discussions with the communities to co-define as well as scope the matters of concern, we conducted a quick review of the literature about the needs and matters of concern of Can Tho authority and the people at Can Tho city. Recent studies in Can Tho have indicated that climate change leads to more extreme weather and therefore causes affecting the food supply, use and supply of energy and fresh water as well as impact on social justice. In addition, the in-depth interviews the researchers in Can Tho university and leaders in Can Tho authority gave us the a picture about the matters of concern in Can Tho.

We started the initial interaction with the communities after we had the overall picture about the matters of concern in Can Tho via informal conversations with the key informants in the communities and local authority. We raised the large scope of concerns by the question “What was your main concern with regards to ensuring your livelihood in present and in future?”. Most of the key informants mentioned the economic aspect (income of family). In their mind, the income of their family is critical and the main matter of concern for now and future. However, the next question for them was, “Why did your family consider the economic aspect the most important?”. In their answers and explanations, the environment, climate, food security, energy, learning, social cohesion as well as cooperation among members in the communities were also significant concerns.

Matters concerning My Khanh Community

Therefore, the local authority and key informants in the communities identified that the VACB model (V-garden/orchard, A-fishing farm, C-livestock farm, B-biogas) has been an important model for their sustainable livelihood in the context of climate change and the environmental and social conditions in the communities. The origin of the VACB model appeared in Vietnam in last decades of the twentieth century under the technical and financial support of the Rural Development Project based on the clean development mechanism funded by JIRCAS, Japan. In addition, the VACB has received the support from the authorities at all levels in Can Tho city through the sustainable development policy in agricultural production. During exploring process, the local farmers explained that “in the last 20 years, the garden-pond-barn-biogas project arose from collaborations between farmers and scientists and has contributed towards household economic wellbeing”. Their main income has come from the pig production, fruit from garden, and fish cultivation. They have experienced through the good environment around their communities, diversified income sources, reduction in energy use, and the ability to harness the bi-products of some production system to support other production systems (for example farmers use manure from livestock production for manure in crop production). However, in the recent years (since 2014), this model (the VACB) has faced several challenges including rapid urbanization, climate change impacts, social issues and especially, the fluctuation of market conditions that lead to having several matters of concern. These matters of concern have been confirmed with other farmers in the communities via workshop and survey (structured interviews). The main question that arose was “How to cooperate in learning, sharing, producing (inputs) and selling agricultural products to adapt to the  uncertainty they are currently experiencing?”. This has been main matter of concern for now and in the future of farmers and local authority in the communities.

Identifying the potentials for expanding learning with the communities in discussion the matters of concern


Continuing the previous story, farmers and research participants have been concerned about the cooperation issues between members within the communities and advisors outside the communities. Farmers in the communities have also started applying some adaptation measures to adapt to change of climate and market conditions. However, these adaptation measures have been conducted based on their experiences, habit, and spontaneous responses. These farmers have been very active in learning and self-exploring to solve problems that have arisen in their production process. Therefore, this leads to several potentials for expanding learning and learning interactions within the communities in the climate change context and uncertainty of market conditions.

During the data generation (participatory observation, group discussion, structured interviews, workshop, informal conversations, in-depth interviews), we have identified several learning ways among and between farmers in the communities. There were three main kinds of learning: self-learning and self-thinking, community learning, and training. Every farmers has learnt via self-learning such as self-reading books, newspapers or technical handbooks, self-watching television, listening to radio, self-enrolment training, self-reflection through personal experience. Several farmers have learnt via community learning such as their everyday activities, neighbors, community meetings, extension club meetings, successful pilot demonstrations or mass media (commune loudspeakers). Some farmers have learnt via training from university and institutes such as training courses, visiting tours, supporting of extension workers or researchers. These learning ways/channels play an important role in enhancing capacity of farmers in the communities to respond to climate change impacts and the fluctuation of market conditions. Findings from the initial survey indicated that three main kinds of learning have been important to take forward. Informal or self-learning are significant ways in which farmers work towards solutions to the concerns that matter for them. Formal learning (courses from university and institutes) has provided the basic and science knowledge for key informants/key farmers who are the most important actors for expanding learning in the communities. Social networks via community learning are also the important to provide the foundation for learning together and learning from each other. However, in order to take forward these kinds of learning, it needs to have an appropriate mechanism and principles for sharing and learning in the communities. The needs of the communities include how to connect and collaborate with a diversity of actors for collective actions, particular coordination with mass organizations, community-based organizations, the attention of local and higher governments, and the support of the scientific agencies. It also needs to clarify roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, and benefits of various stakeholders in the processes of T-learning development or social learning activities.