MAG’s Country Director for Vietnam, Sarah Goring, shares her thoughts on the transformative impact that mine action has on agriculture and food security.

Humanitarian mine action around the world is saving lives through the clearance and safe destruction of landmines and other explosive ordnance. But the impact and importance of demining and UXO clearance is even greater when it comes to fostering peace and stability, socio-economic development and contributing to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

Humanitarian mine action can and does have an incredible impact on agriculture, food security and food systems, with reverberating positive effects on issues like educational attainment.

The majority of land cleared by MAG of landmines and explosive ordnance around the world is agricultural land. Making land safe unleashes the potential of individuals to effectively contribute to their community’s food systems, guaranteeing an adequate quantity and standard of food.

Safe access to land enables increased production to meet the demand of local and national markets at affordable prices. It gives people dignity and choice in their livelihoods, supporting food systems and local economic development. The removal of the actual and perceived threat from landmines and explosive remnants of war also enables the implementation of new infrastructure projects and use of technologies to support and stimulate agriculture, such as irrigation systems.

We see this a lot in South-East Asia, for example, where clearance supports not only the safe planting of rice fields, but also the installation of irrigation to enable local communities to plant and harvest two crops per year instead of one.

For instance in Khagnou village in Khammouane, Laos. MAG cleared more than 1.5 square kilometres of land, destroying more than 1,300 unexploded bombs. This meant the community could invest in irrigation for community rice fields. Mr Toun from the village told me that before clearance he only got 40-50 sacks of rice a year. But after clearance he had the confidence to expand his operations and then when the irrigation was installed he could can plant twice per year, producing about 110 sacks of rice a year.

After clearance, Mr Toun was able to produce more than he needed for his family so could sell some of the rice and each year earn about 3,000,000 kip (approx US$300). He used this income to invest in his rice fields and buy vegetable seeds for planting. He also used some of the income to repair his house and support his youngest son to continue to higher education

The cumulative effects of humanitarian mine action support social cohesion, starting with the increase of land availability and subsequent development. More land that can be easily and safely accessed enables more employment. Improved efficiency and innovation opportunities become accessible to a wide range of economic actors, which can include small business owners and women workers and entrepreneurs in the food system of the country.

In conversations I’ve had with people in Laos and Vietnam, they have talked about not only the impact of removing explosive ordnance from their land but also the removal of large pieces of shrapnel and other metal during the clearance process helps improve safety during farming as large pieces of left-over shrapnel and metal can and do cause injuries, which in turn can have significant health effects such as sepsis.

Moreover, land clearance enables more choice for farmers in what they grow, with a significant positive massive impact on local communities. From the ability to plant high-yield crops in South-East Asia, which improves people’s income and livelihoods, to reports of improved soil quality resulting from planting more varied crops and increased use of soil enriching planting. For instance in Hai Thien commune in Vietnam, after clearance during which 160 unexploded bombs were found and destroyed, the landowners change from growing cajuput trees to high-yield chives. This not only significantly increased their income, but local farmer Mr Do told me that they use lime powder instead of chemical fertilisers. By using this farming method, the soil has become more porous and the plants have grown organically. A lot of sand has turned into porous soil. Herbs like chives are soil treatments.

To maximise these multiplying affects of demining and explosive ordnance clearance, it is critical that we work with local communities, local authorities and other partners to prioritise the right areas for clearance for sustainable agricultural production, but also food systems and infrastructure.

It is crucial that MAG and the humanitarian mine action sector partners and collaborates with local authorities, NGOs and social enterprises focused on agriculture and other relevant stakeholders to make sure that we integrate mine action activities with development and sustainable, regenerative agricultural projects, to maximise the contribution to communities from inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development.

This not only makes the impact of MAG’s work greater for the people we serve, but also makes our collective work more impactful, efficient and cost-effective.