Environmental Policy Tensions Between the Vietnamese State and Upland Ethnic Minority Livelihoods

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Patrick Slack

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In Socialist Vietnam, the state is increasingly imposing environmental reform through ecological restoration and protection programs. Upland ethnic minorities in northern Vietnam have been increasingly subjected to interventions ranging from afforestation/reforestation, agricultural intensification, and market integration for the past three decades. State policies have aimed to ‘modernise’ or ‘enlighten’ ethnic minorities and their ‘backwards’ livelihood practices with the façade of addressing poverty, food insecurity, and environmental degradation (Michaud, 2009; McElwee, 2016). One policy, funded by the German development agency (GIZ) and initiated in 2015, established a nature reserve, while also funding village-level forest patrols, restricting non-timber forest product cultivation, and promoting alternative income sources (including silviculture), aiming to protect old growth forests for natural succession. However, the establishment of this reserve and other provincial government policies have ended up limiting a key livelihood strategy (the cultivation of black cardamom) that ethnic minority farmers have used to fund much of their modernised life and have arguably improved closed-canopy forest cover doing so (Turner and Pham, 2015; Slack, 2019). In addition to these policies, extreme weather events have devastated this crop, leaving farmers vulnerable and without reliable income sources. Rooted in four months of ethnographic fieldwork during 2018 around the new forest reserve in Lào Cai province, I aim to explore the forest policy tensions that have arisen in these borderlands. In this paper, I highlight the local conflicts that have precipitated, the increasingly vulnerable livelihood security that upland ethnic minorities are subjected to, and the duality of community perceptions regarding forest policies.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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