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    Planting Food Crops in Rock Holes - Unique Cultivation Method on Dong Van Karst Plateau

    Dong Van Karst Plateau contains tonnes of mysteries for you to discover when you are there. They may be mystical folk festivals like Blessings Worship of the Mong people, Rain Worship of the Lo Lo people, Forest Worship of the Pu Peo people or love markets filled with flute and panpipe sounds and fragrant corn wines. Particularly, local residents impress visitors with a unique cultivation method: Planting crops in rock holes.

    Planting Food Crops in Rock Holes - Unique Cultivation Method on Dong Van Karst Plateau 1

    On my maiden visit to the karst plateau, I wondered how these mounts with sharp-edged and rugged rocks were covered with green crops and how people here could survive for generations on this “rock desert”. The answer seemed simple to me when I saw that Mong people carried earth to fill every rock hole – an unbelievable but true fact in this rock plateau. Witnessing the sharp-edged and rugged rocks that can cut the feet of those walking carelessly, many are quite moved to see how people struggle to raise crops here.

    Planting Food Crops in Rock Holes - Unique Cultivation Method on Dong Van Karst Plateau 2

    With three-quarters of natural area being rock mountains, and frequent year-round droughts, hardly any food crop but maize can survive and grow strongly. If you visit Dong Van Plateau in June, you will see the green of maize everywhere. Maize has the resilience and vitality of the Mong people. Vu Chia Sinh, a 54-year old man in Lao Xa village, Sung La commune, Dong Van district, said “Our Mong ancestors were familiar with rice cultivation practices. When they migrated to Ha Giang, land scarcity and extreme climates forced them to use rock holes to grow food crops. They carried soil into every rock holes to plant maize. Now, every family has enough maize to eat. We no longer suffer from famine.” Although cultivation practices are painstaking, the yield is quite good. Excess maize is used to make cake or brew wine to sell for other utensils.

    Planting Food Crops in Rock Holes - Unique Cultivation Method on Dong Van Karst Plateau 3

    Planting food crops in rock holes is traditional practice in soil-scarce areas. In the warm springtime, dwellers clear up grass and pile rocks to make fences. In small flat grounds, they plough and harrow to make the soil porous. As for rock holes on mountain sides, they carry earth to fill them up, plant maize, pumpkin or bean seeds into them, and wait for rain for germination and growth. Mr Nguyen Duc Vinh, Director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Ha Giang province, said: In the four northern mountainous districts of Quan Ba​​, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac, high rough mountains, water scarcity and cool climate are suitable for maize cultivation and maize is the staple food for daily meals of ethnic groups here. Agricultural production here faces numerous difficulties because of scarce soil, water shortage, mainly relied on rainwater, plus hard tender and harvest. However, with continuous soil fill and high-yield maize varieties, the acreage keeps expanding. The maize acreage in the four districts was 25,820.8 ha in 2005 and 39,837.9 ha in 2012. The yield also rose from 2.05 tonnes a ha in 2005 to 3.38 tonnes in 2012.

    Planting Food Crops in Rock Holes - Unique Cultivation Method on Dong Van Karst Plateau 4

    Mr Hung Dinh Quy, former Director of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Ha Giang province, said: In the past, the Mong people lived a nomadic life. They burned the forest to use the land for farming. After several seasons, the soil exausted, they went to other places to start farming. But later, the forest area shrank and they had to build rock embankments, carry soil to fill rock holes and plant food crops there. This farming practice represents the vitality and mentality of ethnic groups there. The food crops on rock holes are also attached to legends and folk songs. From such economic and cultural significance, the Ha Giang Museum is documenting facts to submit to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for inclusion this heritage into the list of natural intangible cultural heritages. This cultural heritage fully reflects the rock piling techniques, rock hole landfill and crop farming for daily needs of plateau peoples.

    Planting Food Crops in Rock Holes - Unique Cultivation Method on Dong Van Karst Plateau 5

    When the autumn wind blows in, farmers start harvesting. When corncobs are arranged neatly in the house and kitchen, it is also the time they do New Food Worship and prepare for wedding and homemaking. There is a saying among peoples here “live on rock, die inside the rock”, they persistently struggle to plant “living seeds” on rugged rocks on this mountainous plateau.
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