Cardamom cultivation, livelihoods and biodiversity in a H'mong farming system in Northwest Vietnam
AffiliationForest and Ecosystem Science
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusOnly available to University of Melbourne staff and students, login required
The recovery of the cardamom market in northwest Vietnam since the mid-1980s has seen many new groups of small farmers engage in the cultivation of this crop. A particular type of cardamom (Amomum tsao-ko) has a long history of cultivation by H'mong people in the Hoang Lien Mountains of northwest Vietnam. This thesis examined the implications of cardamom cultivation for H'mong livelihoods and forest biodiversity in those mountain farming systems, and explored options for improving farmer livelihoods through cultivation of this crop. Cardamom is in demand for both its aromatic and medicinal properties. It is providing a key source of income for H'mong ethnic farmers living at higher altitudes, people typically isolated from many other markets. The perennial crop requires partial shade and cool temperatures and for these reasons farmers utilize montane forest for its cultivation. These forests are also important for their biological diversity. Some cardamom cultivation practices (including tree felling to allow light to the crop) have been identified as having potentially negative effects on biodiversity. In this study a (partial) Farming Systems Research approach was adopted, which involved describing the farming systems at three (case study) villages, and identifying implications of cardamom cultivation for livelihoods and biodiversity at each site. Farmers were making transition from upland crops (rice and maize) to wet rice cultivation through the use of terraces to meet subsistence requirements, and had adopted cardamom as a cash crop despite the major labour inputs required in establishment. Extensive areas of forest and/or grassland on steep slopes dominated village sites. Cardamom was found to provide a key source of cash income for almost all farmers in the study area and had raised household income levels above the government-defined poverty level. Growers were committing significant labour resources over the initial five years of cardamom establishment, prior to receiving income. This labour on cardamom production competed with, but did not entirely replace, labour input towards improving subsistence income, i.e. establishing terraced fields for rice. Market uncertainty for cardamom presented some risk to small-scale farmers' livelihoods. If the cardamom market were to become flooded or depressed, the outcome would be a major setback for a large proportion of households, given the modest income from other cash crops and low total current incomes. Future inquiry aimed at better market understanding and ensuring stable income levels is recommended. Cardamom fields contained a higher number of plant species representative of montane forest, and in general much more favourable habitat for forest dwelling fauna than existed in alternative agricultural land-use types such as rice fields, upland fields or grassland. Tree cover was reduced by 25-50 per cent as a result of cardamom field establishment in forest, but there was no selective tree species removal. The lack of knowledge of the effect of forest thinning for cardamom cultivation on fauna habitat and animal movement means the abundance of some fauna species may be decling without our knowledge. However, farmers' involvement in cardamom growing ensured that forest would not be removed for other (less biologically diverse) types of land use. Farmers from certain villages have asserted de facto local use rights over particular areas of montane forest through their establishment of cardamom fields. As a result, some farmers had gained access to montane forest for cardamom cultivation - where they had no access to land previously. Research on cardamom production should focus on providing opportunities for farmers without access to montane forest, to grow cardamom in agroforestry systems on suitable land types near their villages. Farmers could be involved in `adaptation' trials aimed at developing new agroforestry systems using shade from planted tree species - as has been achieved in India and other regions. Such agroforestry systems on existing agricultural land may also make a positive contribution to forest biodiversity by increasing total vegetation.
KeywordsAgroforestry; Biodiversity conservation; Cardamoms; Deforestation; Hmong (Asian people); Vietnam
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format" and choose "open with... Endnote".
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format". Login to Refworks, go to References => Import References