Is Communism for the birds?

(Vietnam News) NAM DINH — Three years ago, farmer Dinh Van Hoe of Giao Ha Village in Nam Dinh Province, 160km south of Ha Noi, woke up one morning to find the green leaves of his bonsai farm had been replaced by the white feathers of a thousand storks.

Hoe rented a 10ha farm in the village to start a bonsai business in 2004, but soon found he got more than he bargained for when a flock of storks descended on the farm that winter.

A staff member at Xuan Thuy National Park, a protected wetlands area located 10km from the farm, said that storks often nest on bamboo and search for quiet places where they feel safe.

'The farm is favourable site for the birds after a long day searching for food on the surrounding aquaculture farms. I know that storks here are not listed in the International Red Book of Endangered Species, but it’s a sign of an improved environment,' said Nguyen Xuan Anh, a staff member at Xuan Thuy National Park.

From September to April, it is possible to glimpse rare birds at Xuan Thuy Park, a wintering sight in the East Asian-Australian flyway.

'Some birds catch fish and shrimp for food at farms around the park and shelter in bushes and trees. Naturally, the bonsai farm has been a good site for storks over the last three years,' Anh said.

Green farm

Hoe has planted nearly 4,000 ornamental trees and dug a number of fish ponds. He also raises pigs and chickens on his large farm, which bring in a good income.

'Fish and livestock bring me a profit of nearly VND700 million (US$40,000) per year, while bonsai gardens are a long-term investment. However, birds flocking to the farm brings peace to my life and business,' Hoe said.

He plans to grow bamboo to create more favourable conditions for the storks and to shield them from the poachers he has caught trying to sneak into his garden.

'It’s a gift from heaven and I am committed to protect the birds, not only for me, but for everyone in the village.'

Born in neighbouring Giao Xuan Village, Hoe saved up the money he earned oyster farming to begin the ornamental garden.

Land policy

However, the 41-year-old farmer worries that the commune’s policy on land use will be detrimental to the birds.

Hoe said he needs a longer land use contract, from 20 to 50 years, which will give him enough time to make a bigger investment and protect the storks.

'I want a long-term contract rather than a contract renewed every five years, as the village administration requires. I’ve invested VND4 billion ($230,000) in the farm since 2004, but I do not dare to increase the figure because of the change in land policy,' he said.

Vice chairman of Giao Ha Commune, Cao Xuan Truong, said the farm is the only site in the commune where the birds shelter.

He said the local administration will protect the birds, but they need support from the higher administration in terms of planning and funding.

The local administration planned a 42ha area on a 20 year lease to help boost the village population’s average income of VND7 milion (US$400) per capita per year.

'We want to help households in the village get a chance to enrich their life with farming, but we need a master plan from the district and province,' Truong said.

He also said that the commune is requiring farmers to protect the birds by any means possible.

Over the past three years, the commune has been supported by an SIDA Environmental Fund project to enhance awareness about environmental protection.

In an effort to save the birds, Xuan Thuy National Park Director Nguyen Viet Cach contacted Birdlife, an international non-governmental organisation, and the Nam Dinh Provincial Department of Natural Resources and the Environment to solve the problem of Hoe’s garden.

'The garden is out of our range of control. The farm’s storks are not migratory waterfowls, but they have an ecological importance to the people,' Cach said.

'We are in discussions with Birdlife to assist the commune and save the birds as soon as possible.'

The director also suggested that the farm become an eco-tour site in order to protect the birds and give them a long-term home. — VNS