By Daniel Thomas, ROP Fellow – Vietnam
It’s a hot, sunny and steamy morning in central Vietnam when the ROP team sets off from Quang Tri’s provincial capital Dong Ha and heads into the low-lying, lush coastal farmland of Gio Linh District.
One of two districts located between the northernmost town of ex South Vietnam and the former De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) that split the country in two between 1954 and the end of the war in 1975, Gio Linh was the scene of fierce fighting for nearly the entire duration of the conflict. 40 years later, it still remains highly contaminated by Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) that cause injuries and deaths every year.
Despite this ever-present danger, there is scarcely an acre of land that isn’t used for some kind of agricultural activity – from banana groves and taro plantations to peanut fields and yes, pepper orchards – lots of them.
The weather has been ‘strange’ this year. There was a brief, premature relapse to rain in the middle of July that negatively affected the drying of the peppercorns harvested in late June, and then the heat was back with vengeance. The hot and dry conditions lasted abnormally long into mid-September, when the rain should have already arrived to provide the moisture and coolness needed to give young pepper plants the best chances of healthy growth.
On this baking morning, the ROP team is off to see how farmers are coping with the meteorological turn of events. We reach Gio Anh commune in Gio Linh district, and head to meet one of our partner farmers who has just joined the SHADE program this year. During this trip we’ll also deliver the first batch of fertilizers that they’ll use in the early stage of the planting season, and provide tips on the best practices for nurturing the young plants.
SHADE partner farmer, Nguyen Viet Thanh, is busy. Everyone around him is talking about the prolonged heat and sunshine and how it doesn’t bode well for the planting season. Nevertheless, he’s made all the necessary preparations, creating ‘leaf covers’ made of palms and disused sacks that act as a type of shade-cover to ensure the young pepper cuttings are kept moist and not too heavily scorched by the tropical sun.
It is also the time to make adjustments to existing pepper plants that may or may have not reached the stage of productive maturity yet. Supporting poles are propped up with other supports to ensure they don’t tip over, and the trenches have been cleared to provide a smooth flow of irrigation once the rains come.
Despite the unfortunate weather, ROP farmers are prepared and making the most out of the knowledge and experience they have gained through SHADE to ensure that their pepper plants get the best start possible. Growing pepper isn’t easy, but the rewards of doing it right make the hard work worth it.