In the development of hydropower schemes, local populations are sometimes displaced or relocated in order to make room for dam infrastructure and reservoirs. For many communities this means a dramatic change in livelihood practices as land and bodies of water formerly used for farming and fisheries are flooded. While households and communities may be financially compensated for their losses, adapting and finding viable livelihood activities can be a challenge.
In order to help these displaced communities adapt to their new environments, the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) worked with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to research possible livelihood alternatives. This work was initiated under the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.
Resettlement causes agricultural challenges
At the Yali Falls hydropower site in Vietnam, the completion of the dam and the flooding of the reservoir in 2003 led to the resettlement of around 1,150 farming households and the loss of more than 1,900 hectares of farmland. This hydropower scheme also resulted in the creation of a fertile drawdown zone - land that is temporarily exposed as the water level drops in the dam's reservoir. Recognizing the potential utility of this area, local farmers started planting crops in the drawdown zone during the dry season.
However, planting on this land turned out to be rather problematic. At the onset of the rainy season, rapid flooding threatened to wipe out the nearly mature crops and destroy the efforts of many months of work.
Fast-growing cassava improves livelihoods
IWMI, working with the Soils and Fertilizer Research Institute (SFRI) of Vietnam and the local Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), established a livelihood pilot in order to test the efficacy of cultivating a different variety of fast-growing cassava in the fertile drawdown zone. This new strain of cassava (KM98-7) matched the reservoir's hydrological behavior, the climate of the region and could be harvested before the onset of flooding of the drawdown zone. In addition, KM98-7 had a significantly higher yield and starch content compared to other varieties of cassava that had previously been cultivated in the area.
The result was an increase in net income per hectare of 82 percent in 2012 and almost 100 percent in 2013 for the households participating in the pilot.
Engagement with local stakeholders is essential
"Pairing credible research results and good relations with private or government sectors can lead these sectors to support new options for resettled communities to enhance their livelihoods," says Sonali Sellamuttu, senior researcher of livelihood systems at IWMI and key researcher for the Yali drawdown zone pilot.
Nguyen Duy Phuong, deputy of the Land Use Research Department of SFRI and another key member of the research team, agrees. "The active involvement of DARD representatives - who conducted trainings, monitored plots, collected feedback from farmers and acted as liaison between the local communities and the Yali Hydropower Company - ultimately helped to make this pilot a success."
Given the positive results of the pilot, district and commune authorities in the area are planning to scale up cultivation of KM98-7 in the coming years. It is projected that by 2017 a significant portion of the planting area of the Yali reservoir drawdown zone will be used exclusively for this purpose.