Road Leads to Better Lives for Ethnic Minority Groups

National Highway 16 running through the mountainous districts of Nghe An Province is known as the “Happy Road” among local ethnic minority groups because it has helped people in remote villages escape poverty. Ten years ago, travelling from the remote mountainous communes of My Ly, Bac Ly, Mai Son and Nhon Mai to downtown districts was very difficult, according to the Nhan Dan (People) newspaper. People had to take mountain trails or go by canoe along the Nam Non River, which was very time consuming. Travelling between ethnic villages in border areas was even more difficult. It was difficult to imagine the hardships people in the area had to endure. Carrying pigs and dozens of kilograms of rice on their backs, they walked along bumpy roads to district markets. Then after selling their goods, they had to buy essential household goods and carry them back home. Normally, that would take two or three days. Due to poor transport, mountainous people had to buy essential goods from lowland areas for high prices, while their agricultural products and poultry and cattle were sold for next to nothing. For years, people dreamed of a road that would make their lives easier.

Dream comes true

And the people's wish came true when Nghe An Province invested in the Western Nghe An Route, or provincial Highway 543, at an altitude of more than 1,500m. The route was put into use in 2015. The road is like a silk strip in the middle of the sky, winding around the high mountains and connecting national highways 7 and 48 and running through the villages of 10 communes in the mountainous districts of Que Phong, Tuong Dung, and Ly Son. The road helped to connect local people living along the border with the wider world. At the end of 2015, the Ministry of Transport decided to upgrade the roads connecting districts in the west of central Thanh Hoa Province and the Western Nghe An Route to National Highway 16. The mountainous highway is an important route linking Thanh Hoá Province and Muong Xen Township in Ky Son District, Nghe An Province. National Highway 16 also connects border and mountainous communes to district centers in Ngh? An Province. Previously, travelling from Muong Xen Township to neighboring Kim Son Township in Que Phong District took 6 to 7 hours. Now the travel time has been shortened to 3 hours. “In 2003, two friends and I took two days to travel from my hometown in Huoi co in Duong District to Hoa Binh Township for admission to secondary school,” Va Ba Tinh, a Mong ethnic man and vice chairman of Nhon Mai Commune, told Nhan Dan newspaper. “First we had to trek and then went by canoe along the Nam Non River,” Tinh recalled. “Now this journey takes only 4 hours,” he said. Thanks to National Highway 16, Huoi Co Village which is locating halfway up the mountain was accessible by car so goods were conveniently circulated, he said. For example, more than 60ha of the passion fruit plantations tended to by villagers was now bought by traders for high prices, which was helping farmers earn stable incomes, the vice chairman said. “This is something that many generations of Mong ethnic people had never thought about. Huoi Co became the first border village in Nghe An Province to meet the new rural criteria,” he said.

Poverty escape

According to Le Van Lieu, Party secretary of My Ly Commune, life had significantly improved thanks to National Highway 16. “The highway helps with travel and to transport goods more conveniently with dozens of passenger and cargo buses running from Vinh City to My Ly Commune,” Lieu said. Now local people could buy essential goods at reasonable prices while their agricultural and animal husbandry products could sell more easily for good prices, he said. “Sometimes there were not enough goods to supply traders, especially black chickens and free-range pigs. This encouraged people to develop production,” he said. Previously, people travelled by motor-canoes but now they use motorbikes. The commune has been connected to the national grid and 70%-80% of households have televisions and refrigerators. “This was what the people here have been dreaming of,” Lieu said. When National Highway 16 opened, the commune had to relocate some households from along the Nam Non River, where there was a high risk of landslides, to safer areas along the highway, which gradually became used for services and commercial ventures. The commune currently has 15 cars to transport passengers and goods. Kha Van Long’s household in Xieng Tam Village is a prime example of a family who have benefited from a stable income provided by the highway. “When the highway was built through the my village, my wife and I decided to set up a kiosk on the road to sell essential goods and construction materials from the lowland to villagers, as well purchase local agricultural products,” Long said. After just a few years of doing business, Long built a house worth VND1 billion ($43,000) and had bought two cars to transport goods. Long is one of dozens of households in these rural villages who have achieved success from running service, trade and farming businesses. As the highway passes through the communes of Chau Kim, Chau Thong, and Tri Le in Que Phong District to Nhon Mai and Mai Son communes in Tuong Duong District, and My Ly, Bac Ly, Huoi Ty, Pha Danh, and Ta Ca communes in Ky Son District, several residential areas and busy commercial centers have sprung up. In the communes of Huoi T? and Pha Danh, there are hills of ginger and shan tea plantations belonging to Mong ethnic families. Local people, especially young workers, have become active in the trade and service industries, or farming. “People no longer sit around expecting support from the authorities,” Lieu said. The highway had become a strategic route for the socio-economic development of districts in the west of Nghe An Province, said Vi Hoe, party secretary of Ky Son District. Convenient transport links had helped local people to develop the production and consumption of agricultural products. Thanks to that, Ky Son had formed and developed commodity production models for passion fruit, ginger, medicinal plants and shan tea in poor border and mountainous areas, Hoe said. The district has also implemented policies to attract investment in tourism, especially community and adventure tours such as conquering the 2,720m Phu Xai Lai Leng Mountain. “National Highway 16 has helped awaken the potential of remote areas and allowed ethnic minority groups to develop new economic models, step-by-step escaping poverty,” Hoe added. (Vietnam News)