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Minutes of Meeting

"ICT in Development: Information and Rural Diversification in the Vietnamese Transitional Period - A Village Case Study"
02.01.19, UNDP Hanoi, from 9:00 to 12:00

organized by ISOC members in Vietnam,
as a joint activity with UNDP's "Partnerships to Fight Poverty" Meeting
18 Participants

Speaker: Ms Tran Thi Thu Trang (cand. PhD)
In preparation of her PhD. at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Ms. Trang did a study in a remote village in mountainous Vietnam.

This is a summary / extract of her presentation and the following discussions at the UNDP/ISOC round-table the in light of the (un?)usefulness of the Internet for the people in such a village but also very interesting information flow.

Background on the commune:

- Ethnic minority: mainly Muong in Hoa Binh province (The Muong are one of the larger minorities in Vietnam with very roughly 1 Million members, scattered around several provinces of the Northern highlands).

- Nearly exclusively agricultural production (sugar cane, fruit trees), and a bit agricultural services (milling, lending of agricultural tools)

- Although being one of the "richer" communes in the district, it still can be regarded as a very poor commune on a national scale.

- Size of the commune (figures of 2000): 1,227 households, 5,548 people

- Basic literacy (i.e. ability to read and write) is not a major issue.

- There are gender inequalities and access to information would likely improve the position of women in the village. However, this alone would not suffice in view of the fundamental power relations that need to be addressed.

Furthermore, as far as the welfare of households is concerned, better information specifically for women may not make a significant change since women and men are involved rather equally in the decision-making process of economic issues.

- Practically the whole commune has public power supply

- There are about 100 households in the main village. About more than 20 households there have a colour TV. About more than 40 households have a b/w TV, i.e. about roughly 70% of households have TV.
People who don't have access to TV have access to radio.

- There is a "cultural post office" in the commune.

- The walking distance to that post office is max. about 3 to 5 km.

- This post office offers books on agricultural subjects (about one third of them), as well as on sexual and reproductive health and other health issues, etc.

- The "cultural offer" of the post office is mainly used by young people for infos regarding partnership issues, sexual and reproductive health etc.

- There is one telephone line in the post office. This line is used for about 60 outgoing calls per month only, although the cost are rather low.

Part of the usage is by traders, e.g. to call additional trucks to pickup goods.

- Most of the users of the post office live within the main village, i.e. within about 1 km walking distance.

- There is one more telephone line in the local People's Committee, but that one is only available for office purposes.

Findings, relevant to ICT and the Internet:

- Information about Government policies etc. helped in the past some villagers to gain advantages against others, who had no access to this information. This information was mainly delivered through personal contacts from veterans and migrant workers.

- The language barrier consists only to a minor part of Muong vs. Kinh (the Vietnamese ethnic majority) language, but much more of written (formal) vs. spoken (informal) language.

- Text-to-speech technologies are therefore likely not very useful:
The formal character in a read document is still there....

- The information in the cultural post office about agricultural issues is not used, because:
a) farmers have not much free time to "browse" the library
b) the information is not relevant
c) the information is not accessible (see language barrier above)

- Although there are some bonds within the village amongst members of the same minority against others, those barriers are not too high. No special bonds are expected on a regional scale between villages of the same ethnic minority.

- In general, people are not willing to share know-how free of charge (e.g. agricultural experiences), since this could mean to loose competitive advantage.

Peer-to-peer networks amongst farmers on a regional scale to share knowledge are therefore unlikely.

Informal networks amongst veterans exist already.
Based on those personal relations, veterans are used to share information.

- Farmers are willing to pay to "hands-on-experts", e.g. experienced farmers of surrounding villages, to receive "tips and tricks". This is an additional income for those "experts".

- Extension workers (who are often only "second quality" students) cannot provide this first-hands experiences.

In addition, educational and cultural differences create additional barriers.

- Having information on price differences in another district, province is not very useful, let alone on the world market. It depends on the capacity of peasants to sell their outputs or their dependency on trading channels. Peasants in this village are mostly producers, not traders, and therefore cannot and do not want to engage in the commercialization of their produce.

Moreover, if the commodity is in demand, high competition among traders makes sure that the producers get a fair price.

- The situation is slightly different, when the farmers are the buyers, e.g. in buffalo trade. Timely information when where buffalos are on sale might be helpful.

- Knowledge about farming techniques, government policies etc. would be relevant, but traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers, brochures, extension workers) are unsuitable to spread this information, since usually they provide only unspecific, irrelevant information, and due to the a.m. language barrier (formal vs. informal language)

- People have very limited "free" time, in which the TV is more used for entertainment than for information access (family pressure). WebTV boxes have therefore limited use for the adults. There might be a use for younger people during the day (i.e. when there is less entertainment on the TV channels and not everybody in the family wants to watch TV).

- People do listen to radio during work, e.g. during work in the fields.

The use of ICT and the Internet is VERY limited in this situation.
Roles *might* be:

- Direct market information where the farmers are the buyers, e.g. in buffalo trading

- Information to help to find/connect to human experts (but that is rather limited and slow changing, so that conventional print media might also be used)

- Providing information access to and enable sharing of knowledge amongst
human multipliers, who are able to seek and absorb written information.
About one access point per village (for a very limited number of people)
would be enough.

- Providing means for more efficient and a more widespread networking of veterans to share information and experiences, assuming that they in turn would share with their fellow villagers.

- Disseminating audio material with relevant information.
Example: Local people would find local "experts" on a variety of subjects, maybe even in a variety of minority languages. Somebody would conduct "real life" interviews with those experts. The experts would receive money (from central funds) for those interviews. The interviews would be kept updated and made available via a central Internet audio library.

Local authorities (village chiefs, local extension workers, etc.) could choose from the virtual library what is right now actual/needed in their situation and download the interviews

* to tape (for listening in the fields, or broadcasting via the
public loudspeaker broadcast system)

* directly listening at the cultural post office


- Over the next decade it is expected, that country-wide
the number of farmers will drop and other professions increase.
This would mean also other needs regarding information.

(Minutes taken by Stefan Probst, ISOC Coordinator)

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