There is no denying that the Government’s socio-economic development programmes have brought a facelift to far-flung areas inhabited by ethnic groups. However, the household poverty rate remains high and the fight against poverty needs a boost.
Causes of poverty
Vietnam’s mountainous territory includes the northwestern region, covering Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh, Lao Cai and Yen Bai provinces, and the northeastern region covering Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Thai Nguyen, Phu Tho, Bac Giang and Quang Ninh provinces.
The northwestern region is one of the most challenging in Vietnam in terms of economic growth and social progress. It is the least developed in the national development and poverty reduction process. Geographical conditions are one of the causes of poverty; the region’s terrain includes high peaks and it is always prone to natural disasters such as flash floods. In addition, a number of local people are reluctant to make their own efforts towards development as they incline to wait for State investment for development. That is why the poverty rate in the northwestern region remains high, reaching 46 percent, despite major Government support through Programmes 134, 135, 120 and 186.
According to Vu Dung, the Deputy Director of the Industrial Department under the Party Central Committee’s Commission for Economic Affairs, the lack of regional coordination is also a problem. For example, instead of joining each other in building a sugarmill or a cement plant and sharing profits, two neighbouring provinces would build its own mill or plant. As a results, production costs increase and profit reduces.
Another example cited by Mr Dung are Ban Gioc waterfall, Sa Pa resort and Ba Be lake, which are tourist sites close to one another but lie in different provinces. It will be much better if Lao Cai, Yen Bai and other provinces join hands to organise tours to these sites.
Tran Minh Phuong from the Department for Localities in the Government Office said that investment in mountainous regions particularly that sourced from the State budget is low and fails to meet infrastructure development needs. Many localities also broke the Government’s rules on construction when they still ran short of funds. As a result, they could not pay back debts after construction structures are completed. For example, Son La province cannot pay a bad debt of nearly VND500 billion, and Ha Giang province, VND1,000 billion. Moreover, roads, skilled workers and other technical infrastructure are not sufficient to attract investment to this region.
Currently, two ethnic minority groups in the northwest each have a population of less than 1,000. The Sila people in Dien Bien and the Pu Peo in Lai Chau are living in poverty with an annual food per capita of about 200kg. The poverty rate among the Sila is 90 percent and income per capita is around VND250,000 a year. Poverty in these areas can be attributed to poor cultivation techniques used by the minority people, and the Government’s sparing investment.
Dinh Hong Van, head of the Department for Ethnic Minorities, under the Party Central Committee’s Commission for Mass Mobilisation maintained that a number of minorities were satisfied with their current living condition and have no will to enrich themselves. They are indifferent to their poverty and outside assistance. Meanwhile, State investment was sparing and unfocused: Structures being built under Programmes 135 and 186 were damaged by floods and many others were of poor quality. Another reason is that a number of ethnic minority people lead nomadic lives and therefore it is very difficult to get rid of poverty.
How to help the minority people escape poverty?
A saying does, “we should give the poor a fishing-rod, not a fish”. However, how can they use a fishing rod well without good fishing techniques? How can the ethnic minority people continue their productive activities after the development projects finish? Policymakers and ethnic minority developers have paid particular attention to solutions for sustainable poverty reduction.
Trieu Sinh Lay, head of Lang Son provincial Committee for Ethnic Minorities, has proposed that in the coming period, developers should find a suitable way for technology transfer as the people’s general knowledge was low. He quoted the example of the Vietnam-German project on afforestation in Lang Son province. Under this project, the locals were trained in seedling cultivation, hole digging and fertilisation. After the seedlings became a forest, it was handed to the people. The fund was not given to them in cash but was deposited in their saving books. After seven or eight years, the locals received the entire forest and planting techniques.
According to Long Huu Phuc, head of the Ha Giang provincial Committee for Ethnic Minorities, first priority should be given to human resource development. Vietnamese language should be taught to schoolchildren as early as at Grade 1.
Currently, agro-forestry development should be accelerated in remote and inaccessible areas. Most important is that the investment policy should be renewed to assist farmers in developing productive activities in a sustainable manner.
To meet this target, relevant ministries, sectors and local authorities should invest in infrastructure to meet the needs of commodity economy development and integration. They should further invest in education and training to improve the people’s general knowledge and attract, manage and effectively use external resources for socio-economic development.