Ethnic minorities escape poverty in Viet Nam

Luong Thanh Binh, a community technician trained by the project, checks a seedling.
Luong Thanh Binh, a community technician trained by the project, checks a seedling. Photo: UNDP in Viet Nam

In Muong Lat, a mountainous district of the Thanh Hoa province in Viet Nam, Luong Thi Xuan’s family is now better-off by raising Kerria Lacca, an insect that lives on palm trees and produces shellac, a kind of resin used in food, fine arts, and medicine. 

“My grandparents used to raise Kerria Lacca, then my family lost this traditional occupation until six years ago when we got help to recover it,” says Xuan. “With the money we get from selling shellac, we have been able to reinforce our house, send our son to college, raise cattle and poultry, and even buy some furniture.”

Highlights

  • While ethnic minorities represent less than 15% of Viet Nam’s population, they make up almost 50% of Viet Nam’s poor. Source: World Bank .
  • The project helped nearly 7,000 ethnic people in poor and remote areas of the country recover and develop their traditional livelihoods.
  • Since its inception in 1999, the UNDP-backed GEF-SGP programme in Viet Nam funded 145 projects, amounting to US$ 7,5 million.

Like Xuan’s family, more than 900 ethnic minority households in the district have escaped poverty through a UNDP-backed project. With funding from the Global Environment Facility Small Grant Programme (GEF-SGP), Dao, Kho Mu, Mong and Thai ethnic households in the region recovered a lost tradition of farming insects and now earn VND90-160 million (USD4,300-7,600) per year on average.

Cultivating Kerria Lacca is essentially a traditional occupation of ethnic minorities in mountainous areas. Breeding techniques are passed down from father to child, and shellac is an important source of income for farmers. In the 1970s and 80s, the country was exporting tons of shellac every year to the former Soviet Union. However, the industry collapsed with the break-up of the Soviet bloc, and hectares of breeding trees for the insects were chopped down for firewood or burned off for cultivation. Now, while ethnic minorities represent less than 15% of Viet Nam’s population, they make up almost 50% of Viet Nam’s poor.

Started in 2007, the project helped nearly 7,000 ethnic people in poor and remote areas of the country recover and develop their traditional occupations. This contributed to the preservation of indigenous knowledge and the creation of sustainable livelihoods.

In addition to reducing poverty, the project has contributed to the protection of biodiversity, replanting forests to host the insects and documenting breeding technologies to improve productivity and share knowledge with other communities.

Luong Thanh Binh, a community technician trained by the project, says: “I have been providing guidance and sharing experience on how to cultivate Kerria Lacca for people not only in Muong Lat but also in other districts of Thanh Hoa province.”

By organizing experience-sharing workshops, visits to demonstration models and studies of processing and consumption markets, the project encourages a self-sustaining method of preserving local heritage and biodiversity in and beyond the region. The project’s report on policy and markets for cultivating Kerria Lacca in the Thanh Hoa province leaves a meaningful legacy for the inclusion of traditional occupations in the province’s official policy on forestry economic development in mountain districts.

“What we see in Muong Lat is very exciting. Raising Kerria Lacca has helped many ethnic minority people escape from poverty, and they no longer burn forests for cultivation,” said Ms. Louise Chamberlain, UNDP Country Director in Viet Nam. “Initiatives such as this demonstrate that the creation of livelihoods can go together with forest protection and restoration, and this can be best achieved when communities are able to meaningfully participate in and manage the process.”

 

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