Development of high quality human resources for agriculture, new rural development and sustainable poverty reduction in Ethnic Minority and Mountainous Areas

Delivered by Ms. Caitlin Wiesen-Antin, UN Co-Chair of the Ethnic Minority Working Group and UNDP Resident Representative on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Kamal Malhotra

September 13, 2020

Excellency Mme. Tong Thi Phong, Member of Polit Bureau, Vice Chair Woman of National Assembly;

Excellency Mr. Nguyen Huu Dong, Party Secretary of Son La Provincial Party Committee;

Excellency Mme. Nguyen Thuy Anh, Chairwoman of Committee for Social Affairs;

Excellency Mr. Nguyen Chi Dung, Minister of Ministry of Planning and Investment;

Excellency Mr. Nguyen Xuan Cuong, Minister of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development;

Excellency Mr. Do Van Chien, Minister, Chairman of Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs

Representatives of other line ministries and local governments,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,  

I am honored and delighted to be here in Moc Chau, a district town of Son La province surrounded by beautiful green tea hills and natural landscapes and to participate in this workshop representing Mr. Kamal Malhotra, the UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam. He very much has wished to be here and regrets that he was unable to join in this important occasion.

On behalf of the Resident Coordinator and in my capacity as Co-Chair of the Ethnic Minority Working Group, I would like to congratulate the National Assembly’s Committee for Social Affairs, the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Son La Provincial Party Committee, and Viet Nam Cooperative Alliance and all participants for organizing this workshop on human resource development for ethnic minority and mountainous areas in agriculture, rural development and sustainable poverty reduction.

In March 2019, Mme. Phong extended invitation to the UN representatives to visit Son La on a field trip. Our RC described the visit as, which I quote, “an eye-opening experience that allowed me to better understand and gain first-hand experience on the dynamic and beautiful cultural diversity in Viet Nam.”

The topics of today’s workshop remain highly important priorities in Viet Nam’s development agenda. We must continue our earnest effort to accelerate socio-economic development and poverty reduction, especially in ethnic minority areas, towards the SDG achievement in Viet Nam, while leaving no one behind. In fact, the SDGs in Vietnam cannot be achieved without prioritizing such an acceleration.

Over the past decades, Viet Nam’s success in socio-economic development had been recognized by the international community, especially its impressive results in poverty reduction and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Extreme poverty fell sharply from 49.2% (1992) to 0.7% (2018) over 15 years. The 2019 Multidimensional Poverty Report jointly launched by UNDP and MOLISA shows multi-dimensional poverty rate (defined by Viet Nam’s national MDP measurements)  reduced significantly from 8.23% in 2016 to 3.72% in 2019, lifting around 6.5 million people out of multi-dimensional deprivation.

Despite this success in terms of the national average, we also know that similar socio-economic development had been slow, and poverty still remains much too prevalent in the mountainous and ethnic minority areas.  The people in these areas were faced with multiple challenges even before the new complications brought about by COVID-19, which has potentially disproportionate socio-economic impacts on vulnerable groups. Even prior to January 2020, such peoples were heavily impacted by climate change, environmental and natural disasters which directly affected their livelihoods. Women and girls in many ethnic minority areas often faced limitations in accessing healthcare services, participating in decision-making processes, and continuing education. The reasons for this range from persistent social norms of the roles of men and women, to the male-centered ideology, even though in some ethnic minority areas there is a matriarchal society which makes lives of women easier than in patriarchal societies. Insufficient gender-responsive budgeting also hinders the development of gender statistics to formulate evidence-based gender-inclusive policies and interventions.

The strict physical distancing during COVID-19 has exacerbated socio-economic burdens with respect to job security and sustainable income for many vulnerable ethic minority peoples. Many of them have either lost or been confronted with reduced income and jobs. The recent assessment by UNDP and UN Women on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable households and enterprises estimates that the average incomes of ethnic minority households dropped by 75% in April 2020 compared with the end of 2019. Additional statistical investigations also found that poverty rates among ethnic minority households may have increased by approximately 50 percentage points in April and May 2020, when economic activity all but ceased as a result of physical distancing measures.

The UN in Viet Nam is working closely with the government and the people of Viet Nam on COVID-19 response. We acknowledge that it is crucial to provide relevant and targeted support to the ethnic minority people including families, women and children, who make up 14.7% of Viet Nam’s population but account for a wholly disproportionate percentage of the country’s extreme poor.

2020 coincidentally marks both the 75th anniversary of Vietnam’s independence as well as the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The UN Secretary General’s priority in celebrating UN75 is to put people at the center and to earnestly listen to their concerns about and aspirations for the future and UN.  As you may know, one of the key principles of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals is “Leaving No One Behind”. We would like to seize this momentum to listen directly to the voices of vulnerable groups, including ethnic minority peoples. While we commend the National Assembly and the Government of Viet Nam for this initiative, the UN in Viet Nam would also like to see and contribute to many more innovative and integrated people-centered approaches and solutions from the Government. We also believe that there is an urgent need for many more platforms and incentives for ordinary people, especially the most vulnerable, so as to enable their voices to be heard and heeded.

As the United Nations begins to prepare its new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for 2022-2026, the challenges of multi-dimensional poverty eradication, especially in the ethnic minority areas, will be at the center stage for us. Indeed, the United Nations stands ready to continue its partnership with the National Assembly of Viet Nam with a view to listening to the people and shaping a better future for every Vietnamese.

Allow me to conclude by once again congratulating the National Assembly of Viet Nam, the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs, the province of Son La as well as other Government’s agencies for jointly organizing this useful and timely workshop on human resource development. We, as a One UN in Viet Nam, will work with the National Assembly, Government agencies, ethnic minority peoples and their communities as well as other partners in this essential and important initiative. I wish you all a successful and fruitful discussion and look forward to hearing about the tangible results of the workshop from the UNDP Resident Representative, Caitlin Wiesen-Antin, when she returns. Given that we are still in COVID-19 times globally, even though Viet Nam appears to have once again contained the pandemic for now, please also let me say to each one of you and your families: stay safe; stay healthy.

Thank you. Xin Cảm Ơn!