Environmental Policy Tensions in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands: Upland Ethnic Minority Livelihoods on the Socialist Fringes

Authors: Patrick Slack*, McGill University, Sarah Turner, McGill University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: Political Ecology, Sustainable Livelihoods, Northern Vietnam, Ethnic Minorities
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Socialist Vietnam, the state maintains a clear hand in environmental reform. Upland ethnic minorities in the Sino-Vietnamese borderlands are frequently subject to ill-informed interventions dictated from the national and provincial government scales. Aiming to increase legibility in the borderlands (Scott 2009), the Vietnamese state is imposing policies that drive socio-economic and market integration, new environmental management approaches, and agricultural intensification. One such policy initiative, the creation of nature reserves, funds village-level forest protection, restricts non-timber forest product cultivation, and champions ecotourism. Often funded by overseas aid organisations in tandem with UN-REDD, such natural reserves are touted as sustainable, biodiversity conservation sites to reduce carbon emissions. Concurrently, formerly semi-subsistence ethnic minority households are having to respond to state driven agricultural intensification and need financial capital more than ever before to buy hybrid seeds and chemical inputs. To gain this income, many households have turned to cultivating black cardamom. Yet, cardamom requires closed-canopy forest cover to thrive and thus has been cultivated by upland minorities for generations within the new limits of forest reserves designated by the state. Rooted in four months of ethnographic fieldwork during 2018 around a new forest reserve site in Lào Cai province, backed by 20 years of research in the province as a whole, we aim to investigate the trade-offs and tensions as environmental policies are implemented in these borderlands. We highlight the local conflicts that have developed, the increasing household vulnerability, and the polarizing community perceptions regarding forest policies and ecotourism schemes.

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