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Land shortages deepen ethnic cycle of poverty

Update: May, 20/2014 - 10:45
Lack of land and few opportunities to work in non-farm jobs are pushing many ethnic families deeper into poverty. — File Photo

HA NOI (VNS) — Lack of land and few opportunities to work in non-farm jobs are pushing many ethnic families deeper into poverty.

This was stated yesterday at an annual policy forum on ethnic development in mountainous areas.

The forum discussed the direction of poverty-reduction policies for the next five years.

It was co-chaired by the National Assembly's Ethnic Council and the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, in collaboration with the Embassy of Ireland and the United Nations in Viet Nam.

In 2013, the Government approved a strategy to narrow the gap between the ethnic minority and the ethnic majority (Kinh). This came after recognition that the ethnic minorities had been left behind despite progress in poverty reduction at the national level.

A recent report released by the Committee for Ethnic Minorities said that more than 300,000 ethnic households remained in long-term poverty due to lack of farm land for production.

At the same time, even though the national poverty rate dropped from 14.2 per cent in 2010 to about 7.8 per cent in 2013, more than half of the poor are still ethnic.

There are about 11.4 million ethnic minorities living in the country, most of them (91 per cent) residing in rural areas.

Most complain about low standards of healthcare, schooling, and vocational training. Human resources remain limited and deforestation is prevalent.

Danh Ut, vice chairman of the National Assembly's Ethnic Council, noted that in some communes participating in Programme 135, a national scheme on poverty reduction that began in 1998, poverty rates remain above 50 per cent in some areas and as high as 60-70 per cent in others.

"There is an obvious overlap and duplication of contents in poverty reduction policies for ethnic minorities groups," he said. "Having no or lack of cultivation land or stable jobs have made them left behind the general development process of the country."

A report released at the conference, which analysed ethnic minority poverty from 2007-12 by collecting information from 6,000 households in 400 communes (Programme 135), indicated that household poverty only fell from 51 per cent in 2007 to 45 per cent in 2012, less than the overall national rate.

The study also found that not all poor households benefited from Programme 135 and that the poorest largely depended on farming and forests.

However, productive land was shrinking and soil degradation was increasing because of erosion and the scars left by hydropower schemes.

Overlapping policies and lack of effectiveness in co-ordinating them also pose problems. For example, the study found that there were about 52 policies/programmes addressing child poverty.

According to Son Phuoc Hon, vice-minister of the council for ethnic minority affairs (CEMA), current poverty reduction policies also pose questions about their appropriateness for the diverse and traditional livelihoods of ethnic groups.

"These will be significant barriers to poverty reduction and the country's development if we do not find appropriate approaches," he said.

Louise Chamberlain, UN Development Programme Country Director in Viet Nam, said ethnic minorities should not been seen merely as targets of policies but rather as agents of change, calling for the Government to recognise their cultural diversity and develop inclusive programmes that take this into account.

She also felt there should be a greater focus on the monitoring of outcomes as changes in people's lives rather than on the reporting on inputs.

Trinh Cong Khanh, general director of the Ethnic Minority Police Department under CEMA, agreed that many of the current policies overlapped.

"Many are no longer suitable but they take a long time to amend or revise," he said. "Financial allocations for implementation of policies are low and not unified."

Thao No Cho, a 41-year-old ethnic resident at the conference from Chieu An Commune in Son La City said many ethnic families don't want to borrow money for their children to study.

"Because as you know, they can't really get good jobs (to pay back the money), so many have told their children to stop studying at a certain grade and return to farming," he said. — VNS


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