Luong Van Si is from a beautiful but impoverished part of Vietnam. Before he got involved in an ecotourism project, his chances of escaping poverty were slim. Today he can look after his family’s needs while at the same time protecting the environment for future generations.
Si and his family live in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve in Northern Vietnam and belong to the ethnic Thai community, one of Vietnam’s 53 ethnic minority groups, which account for almost 50% of the people living in poverty in Vietnam.
Although in recent years increasing numbers of tourists have been visiting Pu Luong, this had little impact on local incomes as tour operators from outside the area organised the visits.
Si used to depend on a small income from his work in his rice paddies until a new opportunity came along: “In 2008, my family started a homestay service. Though only about 40 tourists stayed at our house paying €1.50 per person per night, the revenue was better than working hard in the paddy fields,” Si recalled.
The business really took off a year later when Si received support through an ecotourism project, funded by Irish Aid and managed by Fauna and Flora International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO). The project explored how tourism could help the community grow their income and conserve the environment.
“I was invited to training courses on cooking, speaking English, business management and communication skills so that tourists were satisfied and happy when they stayed in my house,” said Si. He also received support to build a new bathroom with a toilet and running water to help encourage foreign guests to stay.
Since then Si’s income has grown to around €2,700 per year - over three times as much as the average for the area. With the extra income, Si can send his son to secondary school, giving him the possibility of a different kind of life.
With the extra income, Si can send his son to secondary school, giving him the possibility of a different kind of life.
The benefits of this kind of tourism reach beyond Si’s family as the local community, who are part of the ethnic Thai minority, receive a 20% share of each guest’s fee. The money goes into a common fund to help develop other businesses and support households that are struggling.
Fuel efficient stoves were given to local families so that they would need less firewood, reducing the number of trees being cut down. Through steps like these communities can grow with minimal impact on the natural environment.
While Vietnam’s economic growth and progress in poverty reduction have been impressive, the benefits remain to be felt by some parts of society, including ethnic minority groups like Si’s community. As Vietnam’s economy grows, they are in danger of being left further behind.
Irish Aid works closely with the government and a range of non-governmental organisations to ensure that the economic growth is inclusive and that the needs of Vietnam’s poorest men and women are factored into planning and policy decisions.
53 Ethnic Groups Half of Vietnam’s poor are from one of 53 ethnic minority groups and most live in remote rural areas.