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Promoting the Role of Communities in Implementing the Agricultural and Rural Development Strategy

On August 16th 2023, in Hanoi, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) organized a Symposium titled "Promoting the Role of Communities in Implementing the Agricultural and Rural Development Strategy" with the sponsor of the regional project “Network for Agriculture and Rural Development Thinktanks for Countries in Mekong subregion” (NARDT). The Symposium was conducted both in-person and online, chaired by Minister of MARD, H.E Le Minh Hoan, and the Chairman of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), former Minister of MARD, Dr. Cao Duc Phat.

Mr. Le Minh Hoan - Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Minh Hoan and Mr. Cao Duc Phat - President of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development co-chaired the seminar

In addition to representatives from the MARD's affiliated units, the Symposium was attended by leaders from the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, the Central Committee of the Vietnam Farmers' Union, the Central Committee of the Vietnam Women's Union, representatives from international organizations, speakers, scientists, representatives from various models and other entities engaged in community development research and projects. At local points, there were leaders of the People's Committees and Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development from nearly 30 provinces joined the symposium via Zoom platform.

During the opening remarks of the Symposium, Minister H.E Le Minh Hoan emphasized the crucial role of communities in implementing the new strategy on agricultural and rural development. The Minister stated that this Symposium aimed to approach communities not as a model or structure, but as a mindset, a new approach. He expected the discussions during the Symposium would help to grasp the value of community involvement, moving away from administrative thinking. This way, in addition to management based on legal tools and institutional frameworks, a community-based management approach could now be embraced.

According to Minister H.E Le Minh Hoan, the community-based approach has been around for a while, but it still faces obstacles and challenges. The Symposium would be the platform to review the directions and content of the community-based approach. "A model can be changed by another model, but the mindset is crystallized and selected from the world's experiences. It's time to integrate into the world's common orbit, not only approaching from the top-down but also adopting a multidimensional view from the bottom-up, mobilizing the strengths of the community for agricultural development," emphasized Minister H.E Le Minh Hoan.

At the Symposium, former Minister of MARD and Chairman of IRRI, Dr. Cao Duc Phat, mentioned that economists talk about policies, technicians discuss techniques, and administrative managers often focus on administrative measures. However, agricultural development is not solely about rice plants or pigs; it's about the farmers themselves. Therefore, the sustainable development of the agricultural sector must be considered as agricultural mobilization, combined with policies, techniques, and administrative solutions. We cannot solely reply on budget allocation to develop a sustainable agriculture and rural areas  without the active participation and contributions of farmers. To stably and sustainably develop agriculture and rural areas, they must be built upon the foundation of the farmers.

"As we've learned from the past few decades, we must rely on the people, the farmers, and harness the collective role, not just individual households, but the entire farming community, to achieve better economic development. How to achieve this goal more effectively is the reason we are gathered here to share in this Symposium today," added Dr. Cao Duc Phat.

During the Symposium, delegates and experts focused on clarifying several issues related to the role of communities in implementing the Agricultural and Rural development Strategy, such as the nature of communities and how to leverage their role in agricultural and rural development; international experiences in community development and experiences in community development in Vietnam; localities sharing effective community practices.

Dr. Dang Kim Son, former Director General of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development

Doing research and being pondered over community economic development for many years, Dr. Dang Kim Son, former Director General of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, began his presentation by highlighting the interconnectedness of three entities: market mechanisms, the State, and the community throughout history. Dr. Son believed that if we solely rely on the State, it will be overwhelmed and unable to accomplish everything. Therefore, it is necessary for people to participate as a community in building and promoting sustainable development agriculture and rural areas. To revitalize the rural community model, Dr. Son believes that community-based entities like professional associations, cooperatives, and guilds need to be established. Simultaneously, economic activities should be organized to develop community organizations.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Huyen, representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), shared that the idea of community engagement, ownership, and benefits with a global mindset and grassroots action has been at the core of the UNDP's Small Grants Programme (SGP).

Over the past 30 years, the SGP has successfully supported social organizations in implementing numerous community initiatives related to the environment and livelihoods improvement for people in 136 countries in the fields of biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, land degradation and desertification prevention, sustainable forest management, and waste management, including plastic waste. The SGP has executed 27,348 projects, providing a total of $752.9 million USD. Currently, there are 1,771 ongoing projects, with a total funding of $62.9 million USD.

Operating in Vietnam since 1999 with this philosophy, the SGP has sponsored 183 community projects in 45 provinces and cities. Among them, support has been provided to hundreds of communities in forest undergrowth conservation and livelihood development (medicinal plants), the preservation of rare species (sea turtles, gibbons), protection of aquatic resources, coral reefs, climate-resilient agriculture, waste management, plastic waste, and community tourism.

At the symposium, the spirit of Saemaul Undong (Korea), the Saemaul Pilot Village project in Vietnam, and the Saemaul Cooperative were discussed, along with the community-driven local development approach - Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD).

Entities directly involved in implementing community models and projects have shared some experiences. Among them, there are the establishment and development of the Thai Hai - Xom Cuong Ecological Ethnic Stilt House Village conservation area  (Thai Nguyen city, Thai Nguyen province); Community participation in the protection and restoration of aquatic resources (Binh Thuan province); Multi-layered agricultural production linked to community-based agricultural tourism at the Minh Tam Guild (My Xuong commune, Cao Lanh district, Dong Thap province).

Many delegates have suggested that relevant sectors should continue to pay attention to information dissemination, propaganda and promotion for agricultural and rural development based on community engagement. Mechanisms, policies, and solutions that facilitate the scaling up of effective community models and projects in agricultural and rural development should be provided. Support for community organizations should enable them to innovate, access capital, new science and technology, and promote products to ensure sustainable livelihoods while preserving cultural identity and protecting natural resources and the environment.

After listening to opinions from experts, Dr. Cao Duc Phat, Chairman of IRRI, former Minister of MARD, highlighted several factors for the effective development of community models, including: 1) A clear and accurate understanding of the community's goals; 2) Support and attention from local leaders, which is crucial for community development; 3) Clear direction from the central level to the grassroot level, including each village and hamlet, to ensure proper development; 4) Dedicated personnel with expertise and training both domestically and internationally, to carry out the work effectively; 5) Favorable policy and legal environment that empower communities to unleash their potential.

Minister H.E Le Minh Hoan believes that not utilizing community resources can lead to dependency, inertia, and hinder innovation and energy within the community. Thus, community participation must be activated, such as through establishing guilds to stimulate engagement, autonomy, and self-reliance within the community.

According to the Minister, comprehensive curricula and materials need to be established to develop communities. However, these materials should also be easy to understand and accessible to the public, enabling effective dissemination and adaptation of community models at the grassroots level. This can help mobilize resources from businesses to address market challenges.

Concluding the symposium, Minister of MARD H.E Le Minh Hoan emphasized the importance of community roles in implementing the Agricultural and Rural development Strategy. He hopes that the issues raised during the symposium would help management agencies understand the depth and value of communities, breaking away from administrative thinking. By this way, alongside management based on legal tools and institutional frameworks, community-based management approaches can be embraced. The Minister requests the agriculture sector to continue disseminating and promoting the contents of the Agricultural and Rural development Strategy to organizations, individuals, businesses, cooperatives, etc.,through diverse and appropriate means for each target group and locality.