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SAM - Regional > Introduction

Objectives and method

In a context of fragile ecosystems and the precarious living conditions of mountain populations the “Regional” component of the SAM Program aims at:

  • Understanding and modeling at different spatial and time scales the mechanisms of agricultural transformations at the interface between societies and their natural environment. Assessing agro-ecological and socio-economic viability of slash-and-burn agricultural practices in northern Vietnam uplands.

  • Proposing technical and organizational alternatives for sustainable agricultural production systems, from plot to small rural areas, with a particular emphasis at the farm level and interventions targeted at village communities.

  • Extending to large geographic areas locally designed and tested innovations. It is thus necessary: (i) to develop methods to extrapolate locally specific research results and (ii) to provide decision aid tools to be used by a large range of actors of agricultural development and natural resources management, from farmers to agricultural services and policy makers.

Our research is explicitly oriented towards regional development, with a strong emphasize on methodological development to make sure the results can be generalized to other situations.


In the context of Vietnam agriculture, our research approach is based on the following hypotheses:

  • Slash and burn cropping systems are no longer viable in the current context of high population pressure and advanced degradation of the forest cover,

  • Further expansion of these non-sustainable practices will result in environmental degradations locally affecting other agricultural activities and rural development in general.

  • Alternatives to these cropping systems exist. However, their diffusion does not only rely on their intrinsic qualities and technical efficiency, but also to a large extent on the organizational aspects at farm level and the institutional context at the village community and higher hierarchical levels.

Methodological constraints

Our research program faced methodological constraints specific to the history and geography of Vietnam.

Successive major breaks in the process of agrosystems evolution. Historical events that Vietnam recently experienced led to successive breaks in agricultural production modes (collectivization, decollectivization, land allocation to farmers, etc.) that put farmers and more generally rural communities in a situation of uncertainty, lacking the necessary background experience to make sound decisions. Rapid transformations of their socio-economic context (industrialization, integration to markets, population migrations, etc.) lead farmers to perpetual innovation without the necessary historical background nor the technical experience that would insure the durability of developed production systems.

The rapid pace of change. The very rapid pace of change in the region, especially since the privatization of the economy, land redistribution, and political reforms of the late 1980’s profoundly modified the relations between people and their environment and also the interactions between stakeholders concerning their environment. In this context of rapid changes, research results may be obsolete and/or useless before they can be released, if methodologies can not adapt continuously to this very dynamic environment. Keeping pace with the rapid agro-ecological and socio-economic changes is thus a major challenge of research programs in order to maintain their relevance to development issues.

An extreme diversity of natural and human environments. The extreme diversity, both ecological and social, is a major constraint to the generalization of local studies to higher integration levels. The main development trends are expressed in many different ways at farm or village level depending on local circumstances. This high diversity creates a very complex picture where there is no typical district, village or even household. This high heterogeneity raises major methodological problems for sampling procedures, data collection, and extrapolation of locally obtained results.

Methodological choices

Three main principles guided our research approach:

Systems approach and interdisciplinarity. The SAM-Regional program analyses land use change dynamics at the interface between biophysical and socio-economic transformations. This requires integrating the different aspects of a complex reality, which makes a systems approach very relevant. The interest in regional level dynamics leads to the involvement of scientific disciplines beyond traditional agronomy such as ecology, soil science, climate science, economy, sociology, geography, etc. Systems approach is a common ground that facilitates the interactions within our interdisciplinary research team.

Multi-scale characterization of land use changes, using

  • Satellite image and aerial photograph interpretation;

  • Integration of biophysical and socioeconomic data through GIS techniques;

  • Multi-agents simulation (MAS) tools to understand the main driving forces of observed land use changes. A people-centered model reproduces the functioning of a village agro-ecosystem and especially the interactions between agricultural production and natural resource management. Then, we combined the SAMBA role-play, derived from the computer model, with rapid appraisal methods to generalize the participatory diagnosis up to the regional scale.

Continuum research – development – policy, through an active contribution of the end-users of the research results (farmers, extension agents, local and regional decision-makers) in the research process.

Time frame
Viability assessment    
Monographic studies
Multi-scale GIS
Methodology integration
Driving forces for changes
Accessibility studies
Land allocation
Crop-livestock-forest systems
Scale transfer
Analyzing innovation process
Accompanying changes
Communication platform

Capacity building

Between 1998 and 2002, the SAM-Regional Program contributed to training through research as follows:

  • Training of project staff members: supervision of 3 M.Sc. and 2 Ph.D. thesis implemented in the framework of the project, and advisory role for 3 M.Sc. and 2 Ph.D. done abroad,

  • Supervision of 6 trainees from Thai Nguyen Agroforestry College for their B.Sc.,

  • Supervision of 6 foreign M.Sc. students (French and Dutch) who contributed to the SAM-Regional Program: CNEARC, INA-PG, Wageningen University.

  • Contribution to international training organized by ICRAF (Vietnam agroforestry capacity building), IRRI (Training on upland rice ecosystems, modeling methods as part of the Ecoregional Initiative capacity building activities), etc.