Taking ownership to escape poverty in Viet Nam

woman attends her cow
Nguyen Thi Tinh attends to her cow, which she received through a community-supported cow-rearing programme. Photo: UNDP in Viet Nam

Nguyen Thi Tinh lives with her daughter in Na Vuong village in the northern mountain province of Cao Bang, Viet Nam. Her husband left when her daughter was very small, and her daughter has to travel more than 10 kilometres to her secondary school. For many years, Tinh received support from various poverty reduction programs and tried very hard to escape from poverty.

“Once I got a ploughing machine which was shared with several other households. With the type of soil here I can only grow one rice crop a year and this is not self-sufficient,” Tinh said. “Another time, I received 5 million dong (US$ 230) from a poverty reduction program and spent it repairing my house which was in very bad condition. I even had to borrow more money for the repair and am still paying back the debt.”

Highlights

  • The project has been run in eight pilot provinces.
  • Over 11,500 poor ethnic women and men actively participated in community meetings to discuss problems, define solutions and plan development of their communities.
  • Legal documents on replication of these successful models have been issued in the eight selected provinces, indirectly benefiting thousands of local residents.

Tinh is from the Tay ethnic minority group that inhabits this remote mountainous area, and her situation is not uncommon. Across Viet Nam, many other ethnic minority households are chronically poor. While overall poverty levels in the country dropped to 14.5 per cent in 2010, ethnic minority groups have experienced a much slower pace of poverty reduction. Progress in reducing poverty among ethnic minority people in dimensions other than income, such as education, health, housing, sanitation and water also lag behind the national average.

The Government of Viet Nam recognized the persistence of chronic poverty among ethnic minorities and mountain communities, and has been implementing a series of policies and programs targeting these population groups.

Under the Poverty Reduction Policies Project, co-financed by Irish Aid, UNDP and its partners - including policymakers, government agencies, and grassroots communities – have explored two important questions: How best to meet the needs of the ethnic minority people? How to ensure poverty reduction initiatives effectively help ethnic minority people permanently escape from poverty?

Since 2012, UNDP has promoted community agreement and ownership of poverty reduction models to enable poor people like Tinh to sustainably escape poverty.

“Last year, we [villagers] met to discuss livelihood options for our village. With the soil and other conditions here, we agreed that cow breeding would be most feasible,” said Tinh. “We also discussed to decide which households were the poorest in the village and should participate in the [UNDP-supported] cow rearing scheme.”

Tinh was among the seven households selected for the first round. She had the right to select her own cow, and she decided to choose one with its baby.

Tinh and fellow villagers took part in training sessions in cow breeding techniques such as improving nutrition for the cows, constructing barns, growing grass, etc. They have been putting the obtained knowledge and skills to use.

After 10 months, the baby cow has grown up and been returned to the project, so that additional villagers can benefit from the project. “The mother cow will deliver soon. I will breed the baby cow and in 10 months I will sell it and get money to clear all debts and buy a motorbike for my daughter to go to school,” Tinh looked ahead optimistically. “I hope that my daughter will go to college and get a decent job afterward.”

Over 11,500 poor women and men from various ethnic minority groups across eight pilot provinces in Viet Nam have actively participated in community meetings, where they discuss problems, define solutions, and plan development of their communities. They also attended training programs equipping them with new skills to improve their livelihoods. Not only have their livelihoods improved through innovative income generation activities, their confidence to take charge of their own development has increased substantially.

This very positive experience of community empowerment in the project’s pilot locations is being shared and scaled up in many more provinces under the National Target Program for Sustainable Poverty Reduction. Government agencies at provincial and central levels increasingly recognize poor people’s capability to provide sustainable solutions to key development questions. Policy improvements have been made promoting the community-owned initiatives and institutionalizing participatory planning.