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In Ninh Thuận, a Bamboo Scientist Builds the 'Great Green Wall' to Protect the Soil

In Ninh Thuận Province, not far from the South-Central Coast, Dr. Diệp Thị Mỹ Hạnh, a botanist, is growing a "wall" of bamboo.

The protective corridor, aptly named "La Grande Muraille Verte" (The Great Green Wall), helps fight soil erosion and climate change. It’s an important effort to improve the local environment as Ninh Thuận's unfavorable geographical location and severe deforestation have led to degraded land and poor conditions for agricultural production.

Dr. Diệp Thị Mỹ Hạnh is a world-renowned botanist, specializing in bamboo. In her Phú An bamboo village, located around 40km from Saigon, she collected over 300 varieties of the plant, the vast majority of which are Vietnamese. For La Grande Muraille Verte, she used a specific kind of thorny bamboo, which is native to dry regions and therefore specifically suited to grow in this location. Particularly fast-growing, the variety is well-suited to building this green wall.

Once complete, the bamboo wall will block the wind, making sure that the fertile top layer of soil won’t blow away with every gust while the bamboo's roots will create a network to hold the soil in place. Growing the bamboo will also contribute to the creation of local microclimates that help to bring back life to the degraded landscapes.

Next to the wall, Dr. Hạnh is performing several sustainable experiments to increase agricultural production in the region without the use of any agrochemicals such as pesticides or herbicides. Together with the late Jacques Gurgand, she sets up nine testing plots where bamboo is grown under different conditions. The blocks are either covered with crops (beans) or degradable material (mulch), or left uncovered. The experiments' second variable is the irrigation method: the plots are watered as usual in the region, watered locally, or not watered at all. Dr. Hạnh is keeping track of the growth of vegetation on the plots (both the bamboo and the beans) to see which effect the different measures have.

Her findings are valuable for the local community in general and for the farmers in particular. Dr. Hạnh describes how locals were initially hesitant to participate in her experiments as the benefits of the wall and the plots weren't very clear to them. But now that they see how her work is increasing soil fertility and water retention, they are happy to learn more. The insights gained have the potential to improve the lives of thousands if not millions of people.

Dr. Diệp Thị Mỹ Hạnh's efforts have made her a phenomenon in the world of bamboo. In 2010, she received the UNDP Equator Prize for her efforts. This year, she’s planning to present her findings from Ninh Thuận Province to the global community at the World Bamboo Congress. Saigoneer had the privilege to accompany Dr. Hạnh to the site of her wall and soil experiments to learn more about her work, have a look through the documentary below:

Video produced by Annigje Jacobs and Brice Godard.

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