Sumernet

Recovering and valuing wetland agro-ecological systems and local knowledge for water security and community resilience in the Mekong Region (Recover)

The Mekong Region contains a great diversity of wetland agro-ecological systems that provide a wide range of functions and support important social, economic and cultural values. Economic and social transformations have affected the extent and quality of wetland agro-ecological systems, including due to water infrastructure development and agriculture intensification. The purpose of this research project is to generate knowledge that will enable/improve the process of recovery of wetland agro-ecological (affected by development projects) through Participatory Action Research and pilot projects.

Research questions

•    What indicators can be used to define water security in the context of wetland agro-ecological recovery?

•    How are wetland agro-ecosystems valued (bio-physical, economic, social, cultural) through local and scientific knowledge by communities, local gov- ernment agencies, academics, and other users?

•    How have the values (defined by question 2) of wetland agro-ecosystems changed as a result of development and recovery processes from the perspec- tive of communities, local government agencies, academics, and other users?

•    How can collaboration between communities, civil society, academics, business, and government agencies be strengthened for wetland agro-ecological system restoration using local knowledge and scientific knowledge (in policy and impact on the ground)?

Objectives

The research project will be undertaken at locations in three countries, namely:

•    Rasi Salai and Hua Na Irrigation projects/Wetlands in Rasi Salai and Hua Na Districts, Sisaket Province, Northeastern region of Thailand.

•    Floodplain floating rice-vegetable agro-ecological systems in Vinh Phuoc and Luong An Tra communes, Tri Ton district, An Giang province, Vietnam.

•    Wetland agro-ecosystem affected by flooding thought to be linked to the operation of the Nam Theun 2 dam in Kang Pa, Phonethan and Salakham villages, Xayboury district, Savannakhet Province, Lao PDR.

From a policy perspective, the research project engages closely with local community, civil society, state, private sector and river basin organization actors, seeking to link local and scientific knowledge in participatory evidence-based decision-making. In the case of Thailand and Vietnam, supportive policies are already emerging for the pilot projects with which our research will engage, whilst in the case of Laos the challenge of river flooding potentially exacerbated by dam operation is an important policy issue to be constructively engaged in. Our research will contribute to scholarship by examining the values of the recovery of wetland agro-ecological systems from earlier large-scale development initiatives. We are particularly interested in how concepts of water security can be valued, as understood from the perspective of the range of local actors involved.

The specific purposes are:

1.     Design a set of conceptually informed indicators for valuing agro-ecological systems recovery and protection for water security, community resilience, and gender justice to be measured through participatory action research (PAR) 

2.     Document the value of agro-ecological systems recovery and protection, facilitate local knowledge recovery, and support ongoing wetland agro-ecology pilot projects through a PAR with boundary partner actors.

3.     Advance evidence-based policy about the diverse values of recovering agro-ecological systems (economic, social, cultural) to inform analysis of trade-off decisions, especially at the local level, in the context of existing development challenges.

4.     Facilitate bridging between scientific and local knowledge in the management and use of wetland agro-ecological systems.

5.     Facilitate networks between local organizations, government agencies, academics and others in valuing agro-ecological systems.

Methodology

Our research methodology consists of four stages, reflecting the four research questions.

Stage 1: Develop indicators derived from our research project’s conceptual framework.

The research project will undertake a literature review. The purpose of the literature review is: a) to map out current state of knowledge of ongoing academic debates that we will engage in; b) to finalize the conceptual frame- work; and c) derive our wetland agro-ecosystem value indicators from these.

Stage 2: Undertake PAR to identify user values of wetland agro-ecosystems, and contrast against our original conceptual framework.

For each country, focus group discussions and meetings with key informants will be organized to map values of agro-ecological wetland systems. The literature review will be utilized to inform the process design. Selection of participants – all of whom are our identified boundary partners – will account for representativeness in terms of gender, age and relationship to the wetland agro-ecological system. In all three cases, gender is considered in participants selected, methodology, and data disaggregation.

Stage 3: Quantify how user values have changed over time.

Each country case study will research the changes in wetland agro-ecosys- tem value over time through administering quantitative questionnaires and undertaking indepth interviews. Design of the survey instruments will be according to the outcome of stage 2.

Stage 4: Informing policy agenda.

Building on the process of the PAR during Stage 3, for each country a synthesis policy workshop would be organized:

Thailand: Synthesis of policy recommendations towards on ongoing restoration strategy for the wetland agro-ecological system, and on operation of the Rasi Salai and Hua Na weir.

Vietnam: On agricultural policy towards floating rice-vegetable agroecology, and towards market strategy (eco-tourism, organic trademark).

Laos: Synthesis towards policy recommendations on dam re-operationalization of   the water release and improving agriculture in the villages.

Our third inter-country meeting would be held amongst the researchers at this point to synthesize the research findings and policy analysis.

Stage 5: Data management and analysis will be ongoing throughout the research project. The final drafting of peer reviewed journal articles, regional policy brief and SUMERNET book chapter will be produced during the final four months of the project.

Boundary partners

Our boundary partners in Thailand are as follows:

1.     Civil society: Khon Taam Association, Taam Moon project, Isan organic agriculture network (formed of community leaders throughout the project affected areas).

2.     State agencies: Led by the Royal Irrigation Department (Sisaket Irrigation Project, Office of Sisaket Forestry, Office of Sisaket Fishery, Office of Sisaket Livestock). 

3.     River Basin Organization: Lower Moon River Basin Organization.

Through these boundary partners, we anticipate that more than 500 impacted villages located within the Rasi Salai wetlands will be beneficiaries.

Our boundary partners in Vietnam are as follows:

1.     Local community groups: 30 households farming 100 ha land in two communes.

2.     State agencies: Vinh Phuoc and Luong An Tra People’s committee (commune), Tri Ton district people’s committee, Farmers and Women’s associations at two communes, and district.

3.     Private sector: Rice producers and business, tourist companies.

Through these boundary partners, we anticipate that the concept of floating rice agro-ecology can be promoted in 141 communes in An Giang province and 140 communes in Dong Thap province.

Our boundary partners in Laos are as follows:

1.     The Provincial Agriculture and Forestry office (PAFO) and District Agriculture and Forestry office (DAFO).

2.     Representatives of farmers groups, consisting of 235 households farming 235 hectares of land from Kang Pa, Phonethan and Salakham villages, Xayboury district, Savannakhet province.

3.     Representative of the Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC).

Policy impacts expected

Overall, at the local level, we anticipate our research will inform and help shape the formation and implement of local policy, planning and practices that link together the diverse values of wetland agro-ecological system recovery with livelihood resilience and water security. With recognition of these values, trade-offs against other policy options (for example, investments in large water storage infrastructure) can be made. Through PAR, we also aim for the empowerment of local community to engage in these processes. Meanwhile, at the provincial level, relevant government agencies will work more closely with civil society in valuing agro-ecosystem and values of wetland recovery that support local livelihoods and maintain ecological services. 

Lead contact

Dr. Carl Middleton

MA in International Development Studies Program, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University Henri-Dunant Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand

Email: carl.m@chula.ac.th and Carl.Chulalongkorn@gmail.com