Cam Tuyen, Cam Lo (25 Nov 2010)
Hoang Kim Phuong was 20 years old in 1986 when he hit an American landmine while collecting concrete scrap from a former U.S military base in Cam Tuyen Commune. Phuong intended to build a pig shed to house his family’s livestock. Phuong lost his left hand in the accident, and has been permanently disabled since that day. Now a father of two children, Phuong has faced many difficulties in trying to feed his family and keep his two children in school.
Things are changing for the better now. Phuong and 49 other victim families are receiving support from RENEW to grow mushrooms and generate incomes to improve their livelihoods. They have attended training classes organized by RENEW in coordination with the province’s Center for Applied Science and Technology (CAST).
“Growing mushrooms brings us opportunities to get rid of poverty, particularly when we cannot work at some normal jobs due to our disabilities,” Phuong said during a break in his training course.
The training is one of the ongoing activities within RENEW’s partnership with New York-based Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), a non-profit humanitarian organization which has conducted post-war poverty-reduction and mine action programs in Angola, Armenia, Eritrea, Lebanon, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Laos, and now Vietnam. The mushroom program is a special poverty reduction effort for unexploded ordnance (UXO) victims and their families initiated in October 2009, aimed at providing basic knowledge and practical skills in growing oyster, straw, wood-ear, button, and lingzhi mushrooms among these participating families.
In addition to the training, Project RENEW is supporting each of these participating families with a standardized concrete mushroom shelter for hanging bags of mushrooms, to avoid losses in flood season as most of the growers reside in flood-prone areas of Quang Tri Province.
The idea of the mushroom project grew out of a small, low-tech mushroom program that RENEW launched during 2005-2007 for 150 UXO victim families in Trieu Phong District. Although these families did earn additional monthly income which improved their livelihoods, they were slow to expand their production because of fluctuations in the market price and unreliable supplies of the “substrate” mix (usually sawdust from rubber trees) needed to produce best quality mushrooms.
The new five-year program is designed to provide UXO survivors and their families with new tools and equipment to grow high quality mushrooms, with an important guarantee from Project RENEW that all mushrooms grown by these families will be purchased at a set market price. A processing plant has been set up in Cam Lo District, in partnership with CAST, to organically certify the mushrooms, package them, market them, and sell them in Vietnam and export them throughout Asia.
“Beneficiary families are excited to participate in this program because of its pricing and purchasing support,” said Ngo Thien Loi, RENEW Mushroom Program Manager, referring to the program’s assurance that the mushrooms will be purchased at a reasonable minimum price regardless of market fluctuations. “When people don’t have to worry about technical issues or the pricing of their crops at harvest time, which will be guaranteed by our partnership, they will want to expand their participation and their production,” Loi said.
One goal of the project is to expand the number of beneficiaries up to 1,000 families over the course of the next five years. This will provide new job opportunities for UXO accident survivors in Quang Tri Province, substantially increase the annual income of participating UXO survivors, and create a steady flow of income to fund Project RENEW’s removal of UXO.
The RENEW and HDI mushroom project has received start-up funding from the Government of Taiwan and from the U.S. Department of State.