08 / 2004
Chau is a young Vietnamese woman who works in the development sector with the organization Action Aid, fighting against poverty. She spoke of attitudes and opinions among their government. She works in a variety of places in Vietnam; in 12 different provinces, which covers a large area. In 8 of these provinces, Action Aid works on a number of aspects of civil life within their development program. In the other provinces they focus only on specific aspects such as food security, education, micro finance, gender and governance, a term that they use to refer to how the government manages the country. Action Aid Vietnam is made up of a group of 30 people in the whole country but they work in partnership with local NGO networks; such a network system allow them to help as much as possible, sharing solutions in different areas.
Nguyen Hoai Chau told me that their main problem is a lack of information. People have to be aware of issues if they are to be empowered to decide based on this information. To this end, they work on raising awareness. They work to forge links between farmers, providing information, giving them the strength to unite and to have a greater voice in society, protecting their rights; all of which allows them to achieve a level of food sovereignty and to enjoy basic human rights. In this way, they deal with governance at both national and local level.
Chau currently is a member of Action Aid’s food security network. Within this network, the focus is on food security and food sovereignty. It is an extremely important sector to safeguard the livelihood of the people and their right to food production.
Speaking about the agrarian reform, Chau said that Vietnam is progressing well. They have quite a good policy; the government distributes land among the entire population. The system that the government uses to distribute the land is quite straightforward; land is allocated according to the number of family members which will be proportional to the area of the land allocated. For example, if there are 4 people in your family, you receive 4 units of land. The government owns the rights of the land; the property belongs to the government, but the peasants live on that land and cultivate it.
Currently, the main problem is the cost of the liberalization of the market and globalisation. A policy of globalisation of the land is being implemented and family economies encouraged. This is a challenge for the farmers who sometimes do not know anything about their rights or about agrarian policies around the world. Vietnam is experiencing the opposite process; they have already implemented “agrarian reform”, Vietnamese markets are being opened up with a view to joining in the WTO. Now this has not happened yet but this process could happen very soon. “If they open the markets and join to the WTO, they will be under pressure from the WTO and several other international institutions. That will make the farmers become landlords.” However the danger is that many farmers do not have the knowledge to decide about their lands and they could sell it irresponsibly. Furthermore, they would not know how to make sensible use of that money. They will no longer have any livelihood so that money will not help them for long.
Chau clearly sees that Vietnam is gradually going through the globalisation process. China, its neighbouring country, has already suffered from that process. Now Vietnam is going the same way, going down the same road of the globalisation process as China.
Action Aid International Vietnam conduct research and training to raise awareness for the farmers and influence government policy; putting pressure on the local governments, getting involved in advocacy, trying to persuade and convince the Government. They do this by showing the government case studies of neighbouring countries such China or Philippines; also with international cooperation of privatisation. The WTO is probably the biggest challenge facing Vietnam. Maybe the farmers cannot protect their own product from other cheaper products. So how can they protect the livelihood and the land also? By, on the one hand, explaining all these facts to peasants in a comprehensible way so as to persuade them to maintain their lands and on the other hand, persuading the government not to open the market. The government should, at the very least, control the opening of the market by limiting competition from an influx of cheap imports. Otherwise the local farmers will not be able to withstand such competition. Action Aid International Vietnam forges links between farmers and civil society in general, so as to join forces, setting up network of actions and make their voices heard.
Finally, Chau commented that she fully endorsed the views expressed during the discussion on the WTO, agriculture as well as the policy recommendations made during the Forum. However, she considers that Vietnam is very different from other countries because it was formerly a socialist country. However they wish to show solidarity with the struggles of their peasant partners and local social associations.
In terms of agrarian reform the land distribution methods are good. In terms of globalisation and liberalisation, Chau does not think that her government has the right attitude. However the government doesn’t seem to be aware of the negative impact that these have on land. The government should be fully aware if they are to protect the local production, which constitutes a major challenge.
By way of a conclusion on Chau’s views, she believes Vietnam should join the WTO because it needs economic reform (yet continue to preserve food sovereignty). Vietnam simply does not have any other option. Maybe things will get worse, but then again, Vietnam will have more opportunities for development. We have got to ensure that this does not end up simply benefiting the wealthy and that the rich don’t become even richer and the poor even poorer.
This interview has been realized by ALMEDIO Consulting with the support of the Charles-Léopold Mayer Fondation during the World Forum on Agrarian Reform (Valencia, Spain, 5-8 December 2004).
Nguyen Hoai Chau, Policy research and advocacy officer
Organisme : Action Aid International
Website: www.actionaid.org ; E-mail: chauN@actionaidvietnam.org