Transformation of Vietnam's upland farming societies under market reform




Henin, Bernard Henry

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Vietnam's economic renovation programme (doi moi) has ushered in an era of major social and economic transformation. Since 1986, when the reforms were initiated, rural development in Vietnam has assumed new meanings, new forms of implementation, and new directions of planning. Central planning policies, once the hallmark of this socialist society, have been progressively abandoned in favour of free markets and a liberal development philosophy. In agriculture, a series of economic and land reforms have officially reinstalled the family farm as the primary unit of production. The results have been generally positive. All macroeconomic indicators point to general growth and improved standards of living in much of rural Vietnam. Agricultural production has increased to the point that Vietnam is now one of the world's leading exporters of rice. Average incomes in urban and rural areas have improved. Poverty has declined in most of the country's population. At the regional level, however, research has shown that progress has been uneven. The gap in social and economic conditions is growing within and among regions. Poverty remains entrenched in disadvantaged sectors of the rural population. The growth of the market economy in Vietnam has been generally accompanied with a decline of state investment in rural areas. At the same time, the country's hierarchical political structure continues to favour top-down planning, offering little provision for local input in economic and political decisions. This has hampered the development in many ethnic minority farming communities in remote areas. This study addresses the consequences of commercialization and modernization of agriculture on ethnic minority farming communities in upland areas. It focuses on two case studies in the upland regions of North Vietnam: a Nung commune of villages in Lang Son province, near the Chinese border, and a Thai village in Son La province, near Laos. These communities have been deeply affected by the forces of commercialization in ways that are uniquely shaped by their geographical location within Vietnam. The general questions addressed by the study concern the transformation of village economies under market reform. They examine the changes in standards of living and quality of life as well as the constraints acting on the development of family farms. Importantly, they focus on the role of the state and local government in influencing the process of rural development. An ethnographical approach has been adopted—a multiple research strategy, based on multiple theories of agrarian change, a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection, and multiple interviewers. The objective has been to gather insider knowledge through participant observation and depth interviewing. The study presents the results of the empirical analysis of the data and their interpretation according to existing theories of agrarian change. It then refines some of those concepts in the light of the empirical data collected and presents new concepts and generalizations that shed light on the process of upland development in Vietnam and other reforming socialist economies of Asia.



Rural development, Peasants, Vietnam