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coffee in vietnamThe comforting routine of having a rich cup of coffee in the morning is a habit shared by numerous people around the world. Unique flavors and distinctive brews come from various countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. Vietnam, once an underdog in the coffee industry, has now become one of the top coffee exporters in the world. As a new major contender in the international coffee trade, Vietnam faces new economic opportunities moving forward. Importantly, coffee in Vietnam has the potential for reducing poverty.

How Coffee in Vietnam Took Root

French colonists introduced coffee in Vietnam in 1857. The central highlands region, Buon Ma Thuot, had ideal growing conditions for the crop. Accordingly, it became a target region for coffee cultivation. Growing coffee in Vietnam proved to be difficult yet promising. The government encouraged citizen migration to rural regions such as Buon Ma Thot, which gained a 265% increase in the overall population. By the end of 2000, over 4 million people settled in this area, which created a new and expansive workforce for the coffee industry. This new workforce, combined with the government’s coffee-growing program and the increased demand for coffee worldwide, created a boom in Vietnam’s economy.

In the span of just two decades, Vietnam became one of the most competitive coffee producers in the world. It now ranks as the 2nd largest coffee exporter behind Brazil. Starting with 8,400 tons of coffee produced in 1980, production numbers skyrocketed to 900,000 by 2000. Coffee production has contributed to Vietnam’s GDP increasing by 7.7% within the past few years. Unexpectedly, coffee became an important player in the Vietnamese economy.

Challenges Brewing Within the Industry

Two main types of coffee beans, Robusta and Arabica, compose most of the beans exported by countries worldwide. Currently, 95% of Vietnamese coffee exports are Robusta, known as lower quality beans. As a result, the success of Robusta in the market depends on fluctuations in global demand. Vietnam’s coffee industry must account for this variable by improving the flavor and quality of beans harvested in Buon Ma Thuot to remain competitive in the worldwide market.

But remaining competitive in the market is no easy task. Unlike globally known brands such as 100% Colombian coffee, Vietnam still needs to establish its trademark in the international market. Currently, processed coffee accounts for only 7% of Vietnam’s exports. Increasing coffee processing by establishing joint ventures with known retailers and roasters could create new opportunities for the industry. If Vietnamese brands become household names, Vietnamese coffee can garner substantially greater profit margins in the global market.

In addition to increasing coffee quality and ameliorating marketing tactics, Vietnam’s farming strategies must improve. Though Robusta is typically more resilient to environmental stressors, such as hot climates, pests and disease, this coffee crop is still susceptible to the dangers of unsustainable farming practices. Farming strategies that rely on intensive irrigation and the overuse of fertilizers can exhaust soil quality.

To combat land degradation, Vietnam’s government collaborates with global companies such as Kraft Foods and Nestlé. It also works with conservation organizations such as the 4C Association, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Foundation. Together, they educate farmers, improve farming practices and establish an agricultural standard. This works to effectively and sustainably increase the production of coffee in Vietnam.

Solving Poverty One Cup at a Time

The significant surge in coffee production in Vietnam also means countless farmers and citizens gain a newfound source of income. With only 6% of total coffee production used domestically, coffee has become Vietnam’s key export. Coffee production provides a livelihood for around 2.6 million people. Importantly, 600,000 of these individuals are small-scale farmers, many of whom belong to underrepresented social groups.

This emerging industry has allowed Vietnam’s economy to vastly improve within a short span of time. Economic growth continuously boosts Vietnamese citizens’ quality of life. In 1994, Vietnam’s poverty rate was at 90%. As of 2020, the poverty rate has lowered to 23%.

Global corporations also take part in developing Vietnam’s coffee industry and helping farmers. Nestlé and Mondelez International have each invested more than $200 million in training farmers to distribute stable supplies of coffee. In 2015, Starbucks introduced Vietnam Da Lat, its first single-origin coffee from Vietnam, to its locations in more than 50 countries. Altogether, more than 21,000 farmers benefited from foreign investments in this booming industry.

Overall, coffee in Vietnam is a growing industry with many future possibilities. With the right policies and guidance, Vietnam’s coffee industry can further improve its economy, provide income opportunities and increase standards of living for countless communities nationwide.

-Vanna Figueroa
Photo: flicker

Poverty and income diversification The World Bank estimates that 78% of the world’s poor live in rural areas. Most individuals who reside in these areas depend on farming and agriculture not only for sustenance, but also for household income. There is consequently a correlation between poverty and having one, dominating occupation. Yet according to researchers, there seems to be a solution to this relationship through increased income diversification.

Farming

There is an issue of volatility that is inherent in farming. Variability in conditions can adversely affect crop yield, which ultimately impacts the income received by farmers. According to Farm Europe, competition can also be problematic. If all the poor in a given region take up farming as a means of earning income, then at some point, the supply outweighs the demand. When that happens, either crop prices will either decrease or crops will waste away in storage. This effect is further amplified when governments are unable or unwilling to offer adequate compensation for farmers’ excess crops.

Even in the United States, abundant in resources and well-developed in agricultural techniques, farming is a constantly changing industry. The USDA reports a wide fluctuation in income earned by a typical commercial farmer between 2000 and 2014. As a result, there is a need for income diversity worldwide, and this is particularly illustrated by some of the success stories in impoverished countries.

Vietnam

Since the 1990s, Vietnam has experienced high rates of economic growth. Researchers with the IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) assert this is due in large part to income diversification.

Vietnam’s highest concentration of poverty is located in the Northern Hills. An analysis of the region suggested that those able to earn income by way of agricultural production, as well as non-farming activities, experienced the highest spike in their earnings over time. However, where does that leave those solely reliant on farming?

Residents limited to farming only managed to earn a living by applying the principle of diversification to their crops. They deviated from the typical crop grown, rice, and added cash crops, like coffee and tea, to their output. The cash crops yielded a much higher profit per unit of sale and required less land, labor and resources to grow and maintain. Even so, their spike in income did not match that of those who participated in both farming and non-farming activities. Nonetheless, the practice of diversification provided a much more stable source of income overall.

Niger

Niger currently ranks as the fifth most impoverished country in the world, and it is actively striving to end its poverty issue. People are seeing positive results attributed to the dynamic between poverty and income diversification.

A study conducted on over 600 smallholder rice farming families in Niger revealed that those who also participated in non-farming wage employment were better off than those who strictly farmed or were self-employed in some capacity related to farming. An important effect of a second stream of income was the ability to maintain the size of a given farm. The ancillary job could generate enough profit during a poor season to cover overhead costs for the following season.

Conclusion

The relationship between poverty and income diversification has become a central focus for policymakers across the globe. It is an effective way for individuals to mitigate the impacts of poverty. Empowering impoverished families to earn steady income can solve many issues embedded in poverty. If a family can individually afford food and water, they can pay to keep their lights on or go for a visit to a doctor. Moreover, the idea of attaining an education or further developing their current form of income becomes a realistic possibility. Diversifying income creates a pathway to not only sustaining livelihoods, but lays the groundwork for prosperity.

Christian Montemayor
Photo: Flickr

floods in southeast asiaTraditionally, the people of Southeast Asia benefitted from small floods that enriched the soil and prevented bigger floods. However, human interference with the rivers has disrupted their natural ecological processes and increased long-term damage. The disruption of crops, destruction of land and the displacement of people due to flooding increases poverty, especially during Southeast Asia’s current economic crisis. Mitigating steps are necessary to prevent the harmful effects of floods in Southeast Asia.

Destructive Floods in Vietnam

In October 2020, heavy rains in Vietnam caused massive flooding that destroyed homes, land and agriculture. A massive 178,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 700,000 livestock fell victim to the floodwaters.

Described by the president of the Vietnam Red Cross Society as “some of the worst we’ve seen in decades”, the floods in Vietnam have affected around five million Vietnamese people, which will push more people toward poverty.

Urban Flooding in Cambodia

In Cambodia, cities such as Phnom Penh suffer from the effects of urban flooding. Urban flooding is unpredictable and has wide-ranging consequences, from the disruption of everyday life to the spreading of waterborne diseases. As is commonly associated with climate change, the poor are hurt the most by urban flooding, for their ability to prepare and recover from damages is significantly weaker than other classes.

Roughly 250,000 people living in Phnom Penh are living in informal settlements and deal with inadequate waste management and infrastructure. Stagnant bacteria-ridden water from floods can linger for eight months after floods, spreading a host of waterborne diseases to those in proximity. Furthermore, as the economy is projected to decrease by 4% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poor people are increasingly likely to be trapped in cyclical poverty.

COVID-19 Stalls Decades of Growth

Despite decades of deadly civil war, Cambodia has made consistent progress towards reducing poverty before COVID-19. Over the past two decades, life expectancy has increased 10 years, poverty has been reduced from 47% to 13%, and growth in the country averaged out to 8%.  Additionally, the country lowered infant mortality rates from 10% to 2%.

While Cambodia’s COVID-19 cases are very low, with zero deaths thus far, the contraction of the global economic market has led to financial struggles for its citizens. The poverty rate is expected to balloon back up to 20% as a result of the economic crisis. The sectors hit hardest include the tourism and garment industries, where demand from its Western consumer base has drastically fallen.

Measures Against Floods in Southeast Asia

Although the nature of monsoons is unpredictable, the extent of the damage and destruction of floods can be mitigated. One recommendation is for Southeast Asian nations to commit to curbing emissions in order to combat climate change, which can increase the volatility of weather. Climate change reduces the ability for scientists to estimate long-term trends and build dams to control flood levels.

Additionally, the concept of leaving room for the river has become popular. This concept essentially promotes soft engineering, or removing human technology from rivers and allowing their ecological processes to be carried out naturally. Furthermore, allowing and managing small floods can benefit the land and those cultivating it while preventing big floods.

Though natural disasters cannot be controlled, efforts from organizations and governments may help the country’s resilience in the aftermath of floods in Southeast Asia. Such efforts can provide instant relief to affected people and may also help to alleviate overall poverty in the countries.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

positive covid-19 storiesThe COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the world. While many countries have been devastated, three countries have positive COVID-19 stories: New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam. Here are their positive COVID-19 stories and the lessons they learned from their experiences.

New Zealand

The pacific island nation of around 5 million people had a couple of different strategies in its response to COVID-19. In particular, unity within New Zealand and the nation’s neighboring countries played a big role in the country’s success against the virus. New Zealand offered to help its neighboring countries to prepare for the pandemic. To do so, the country offered health training and made sure that its island neighbors had supplies to fight the virus. Importantly, this unity in New Zealand bridged across political party lines when needed. This resulted in a massive stimulus package passed just weeks after the country’s first case. The stimulus totaled NZ$12.1 billion, around 4% of the country’s GDP. Included in the stimulus package is support for businesses, support for testing and health services and payments to those who couldn’t work because of the virus.

Caution also plays a big part in New Zealand’s success against the virus. The first case of the virus was detected on 28 Feb. 2020. Even before that, however, the government took measures to limit the possible damage of COVID-19. When New Zealand only had 283 cases, the government ordered all non-essential workers to work from home to limit the virus’s spread.

Moreover, the government came up with a four-level alert system to help people know how the virus is spreading. Level one means the disease is contained in New Zealand and level four means community transmission is happening and the disease is not contained. Given how much time the country has spent in the lower levels, its represents one of many positive COVID-19 stories that the whole world can learn from.

Thailand

Thailand is one of the countries that have positive COVID-19 stories. The Asian country of almost 70 million people was designated a success by the WHO. The economy of Thailand is one that is heavily built on tourism, with one-fifth of GDP coming from the tourist sector. However, since the virus has spread, the government of Thailand has had to make economic sacrifices to protect public health. The country had to close its borders to certain travelers, including many Chinese provinces. In addition, Thailand postponed many sporting events and held them without fans to slow the spread of the virus. In particular, Bangkok was in a partial lockdown with only essential services remaining open. Slowing down activity does hurt the economy, but it eases the blow of the virus.

Thailand has also mobilized more than 1 million health volunteers to help respond to the virus. In addition, the government’s health officials have taken the side of precaution throughout the pandemic. This includes rigorous hygiene and wearing face masks at all times. Moreover, Thai people have generally followed the advice of medical professionals, which has contributed to the Thailand’s COVID-19 success story. The Thai government also has one centralized administration, which helped with communication and organization throughout the pandemic.

Vietnam

Vietnam is also among countries with positive COVID-19 stories. Vietnam’s actions to deal with the virus came early and were aggressive, taking place before the virus even entered the country. This early and decisive action is one of the measures that helped Vietnam early on and controlled the virus’s spread. In early January 2020, Vietnam was already preparing for drastic action before there was a recorded case in the country.

Vietnam enacted travel restrictions, closed schools and enacted a rigorous contact and tracing system, while also canceling public events. Governmental communication was upfront and transparent. Consequently, this helped with public compliance to slow the virus outbreak. Vietnam has been one of the best countries in regard to wearing a face mask, which helps slow the spread of the virus. A coordinated media effort throughout Vietnam has also helped the public and government be on the same page in response to the virus.

Another reason Vietnam has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 is its testing. The country tests everyone in quarantine whether they have symptoms or not. This helps slow the spread of the virus, because not everyone who is infected shows symptoms. As a result, younger people who may be infected but don’t have symptoms don’t infect those who may be at higher risk of death to COVID-19. While there was no nationwide lockdown, Vietnam did impose containment on certain areas to reduce the spread of the virus. In February 2020, when a small handful of cases were in the area of Son Loi, the government sealed off the area to prevent the spread of the virus.

What We Can Learn from These Countries

These three countries show positive COVID-19 stories despite a situation that has turned negative in so many countries. A few similarities have emerged between the countries and their success. One is the unity between government and people, which is important to building communication and trust. When citizens trust their government and can easily access clear guidelines, they are more likely to comply with health measures to reduce the spread of the virus. Another similarity between these countries is that it’s better to be cautious rather than reckless. This helps to slow the spread of the virus and make it easier to track. With all the hardship and destruction brought on by COVID-19, these countries with positive COVID-19 stories show how to keep as many people as safe as possible.

Zachary Laird
Photo: Pexels

Global MarketAfter ten years of negotiation, the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) came into action on August 1, 2020. The deal will reduce tariffs by 99% over the next 10 years and will provide relief from the economic drops caused by COVID-19. The market contains over 500 million individuals and is valued at 18 trillion USD. The trade relationship will enable Vietnam to compete in the global market better, especially against markets like Japan and South Korea. Currently, out of all of the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam is the European Union’s (EU) second-largest trade partner behind Singapore. Compared to its regional rivals of Indonesia and Thailand, Vietnam has a stronger trade relationship and involvement in the global market.

Vietnam and the EU Ties

For exports, Vietnam relies on the EU as its largest partner. Vietnam’s exports to the EU are larger than any other ASEAN country. A World Bank study found that from 2001 to 2018, Vietnam’s exports to the EU have grown annually at an average rate of 16%, gaining it a trade surplus over the EU. According to the European Commission, these exports are mostly textiles and clothing, agriculture products like coffee, rice, seafood, electronic products, telephone sets and more.

As the agreement is implemented, both countries could see a rise in GDP and new job opportunities, amongst other positive effects. More immediately, Vietnam’s GDP will increase by 2.18-3.25%, said the Ministry of Planning and Investment. Unlike most countries, Vietnam will see positive economic growth this year – estimated to be up by 4.8%, according to a study by the World Bank. In 2030, Vietnam will see a 6.8% growth in its GDP.

Both countries will have large growths in their exports. The EU could see a $16.9 billion per year increase in exports by 2025. Vietnam is expected to increase exports by 42.7% in the first five years of the deal, mostly in farm produce, manufacturing and services. Additional domestic reforms by Vietnam could raise productivity and further increase GDP by 6.8% in the next 10 years.

Vietnam’s Participation in Global Value Chains

As Vietnam increases trade with other countries through agreements, it will become more involved in the global market. Further globalization will also push Vietnam to participate more in global value chains (GVCs), shifting away from the manufacturing market from China. The bilateral treaty signed between Vietnam and the EU will also ensure that electronics and electrical equipment (a large portion of current imports) comes to Vietnam exclusively from the EU.

Due to this shift, the EU has increased its foreign direct investment in Vietnam. The EU already was the largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with a total of 6.1 billion euros endowed as of 2017, mostly into processing and manufacturing. This investment will go towards new jobs and increased productivity by reducing the number of imports to Vietnam and shifting towards in-house production for higher gains.

To be eligible to avoid tariffs, Vietnamese products must not contain imports from other countries. In addition, agriculture must meet requirements for sanitation, meaning farmers will have to refine their growth system. The deal places especially tight regulations on the quality of agricultural and manufactured products shipped by Vietnam, pushing technological developments in order to avoid drops in efficiency.

Poverty Reduction

Over the past two decades, Vietnam has made steady progress in reducing extreme poverty. From 1992 to 2018, Vietnam’s GDP per capita increased by more than four times, pulling extreme poverty rates from 52.9% down to 2% of the population. EVFTA will continue this trend. A World Bank Study found that EVFTA is expected to reduce extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) by 0.1-0.8 million people by 2030, 0.7% more than the poverty-reduction rate without the agreement. Overall, this will amount to an 11.9% decrease. In addition, poverty at $3.20 per day is expected to reduce from 8% to 3.5%.

Vietnam has now broadened its poverty baseline from $1.90 to $5.50. From 2016 to 2030, developments caused by EVFTA will influence this poverty rate to drop from 29% to 12.6%, allowing Vietnam to achieve upper-middle-class status. In addition, the income gap between genders will be decreased by 0.15 percent. This difference affects low-income families the most, as they are traditionally involved in manual labor jobs where this is most prevalently seen.

This agreement will open up new territories for both the EU and Vietnam to expand into. Vietnam’s primarily agricultural economy might see large shifts into one of manufacturing and processing. This agreement is a stepping stone for Vietnam’s involvement in the global market, and it might be a sign of large changes to come.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Pixabay

new world bank Vietnam director
On July 1, Carolyn Tuck became the new World Bank Vietnam Director. The former director was Ousmane Dione from 2016 to 2020. Tuck’s past can be linked to her early days working at the World Bank organization, where she worked in Vietnam as the Senior Poverty Specialist. Tuck was also “Senior Social Development Specialist and Lead Social Development Specialist in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region”, according to World Bank.org.

Tuck’s Leadership

Conditions in Vietnam have steadily improved under Tuck’s leadership. As of 2019, Vietnam was no longer considered a low-income poverty-stricken country after the extreme poverty rate declined from 50% to 2%. Per-capita income has risen at an exceptional rate, spiking from $100 in 1980 to $2,300 in 2017, according to the UN.

This exponential growth is fostered by investment in human capital. Education rose to 12% of the GDP while increasing health insurance, living conditions, and increased access to land all improved conditions for Vietnamese citizens. The investment has paid off since Vietnam is making strides in international education testing along with health care spending, which was 7% GDP.

Tuck plans to exceed these numbers by making Vietnam a high-income country by 2045. The per capita income would have to be $12,535, which means it would have to rise by $10,000.  

The World Bank’s Collaboration

The World Bank is helping this become a reality for Vietnam and Tuck by providing “$24.86 billion in grants, credits, and loans.” The World Bank also continues to invest in human capital by committing $516.67 million for Vietnam’s transportation, urban development, higher education, and climate change reduction.

There are still some problems the new World Bank Vietnam Director has to tackle before Vietnam can be declared as a high-income nation. Although investments in education have become a priority in the years past, higher-level education still needs to increase. This links back to income levels because families need money in order to send their children to higher learning institutions. The lack of higher income is caused by low agricultural income due to sub-optimal crop choice and fewer yields from the same crop type on the same type of land. The amount of land being used as capital has dropped significantly too by 10% in 2014.

Looking Forward

The way to improve this is by increasing crops that are profitable and strengthen land usage. The investment needs to continue throughout education and social growth. Education can grow by giving equal opportunity to all, especially in an impoverished country such as Vietnam.

Programs like “Save the Children” and “Child Survival Project,” have a single mission: to help children’s environment and education grow exponentially. They also provide health education and care to children in need through school health programs, according to their website. They’ve protected 27,495 children from harm, supported 60,574 children in times of crisis, and have given over eight million children a healthy start in life, according to their website.

For agriculture, The Asia Foundation helps develop Vietnam’s environment by having community-based environmental management, increased capacity of environmental agencies and NGOs, public consultation and advocacy on environmental laws and policies, youth education, and disaster risk management, according to their website. The Asia Foundation has supported laws and policies like the “Tourism and Law on Environment Protection” in 2005 and the “Law on Environmental Protection Tax” in 2010. The “Law on Environmental Protection Tax” was used to redirect public funds toward environmental issues. A case study was done by “Willenbockel of the Institute of Development Studies” projects that CO2 emissions will drop by 2.3-7.5%, depending on the tax rate. The Asia Foundation is supporting the Ministry of Education to help integrate environmental studies into school activities at 10 primary schools in Hanoi, said to reach 6,000 students, according to their website.

With these steps laid out, Carolyn Tuck as the new World Bank Director can lead Vietnam to new economic grounds never seen before and hit high-income statues by 2045.

– Grant Ritchey
Photo: Flickr

Education in Vietnam
Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has taken various steps to make good on its constitutional promises of free, quality education for all. However, there is still much work to be done for the southeast Asian country to ensure that every citizen has an opportunity to earn a quality education. These seven facts demonstrate the challenges and improvements made in regards to education in Vietnam.

7 Facts About Education in Vietnam

  1. In recent years, the Vietnamese government prioritized quality education nationwide. According to UNESCO, in 2010, the government spent 19.8 percent of its state budget on education alone. This number is significantly higher than the 13.7 percent spent on education across all of East Asia. However, Mitsue Uemura, chief of UNICEF Vietnam’s education section, calls for the government to ensure they are spending their education budget in the most efficient ways possible in order to reach the most vulnerable.
  2. About 95 percent of Vietnamese children are enrolled in primary school by the age of six. However, only 88.2 percent of those children complete their primary education. Historically, primary schools would often charge parents fees for textbooks, sanitation, traffic guards and even building maintenance. These fees made it near impossible for children in disadvantaged and rural communities to stay enrolled long enough to complete primary school. According to a CIA World Factbook evaluation, in 2001, only two-thirds of children were able to complete the fifth grade due to monetary challenges.
  3. Vietnam is successfully closing the enrollment gap between rural and urban regions. Specifically, the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta areas increased their net elementary intake of 58 and 80 percent in 2000 to 99 and 94 percent in 2012. In the same 12-year span, the intake rates for lower-secondary education in these areas grew from 69.5 percent to 92 percent.
  4. Despite various challenges, the percentage of children pursuing a secondary education in Vietnam has grown considerably over the years. In the early 1990s, only 1.7 percent of students 15 years of age and older completed at least a junior college education. That number increased to 4.4 percent within two decades.
  5. The number of students enrolled in institutions of higher education in Vietnam, such as universities, colleges and vocational schools, is increasing. In 2015, 2.12 million students were enrolled in these institutions, a large increase when stacked against 133,000 student enrollments in 1987. 
  6. Literacy among young adults in Vietnam is on a steady upswing. In 1989, Vietnam’s literacy rate for students aged 15 and older was 87.2 percent, and by 2015, the literacy rate for the same demographic was 94.5 percent.
  7. In 2012, Vietnam participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for the first time. The results demonstrated that education in Vietnam has a strong focus on instilling basic cognitive skills in its students, such as numeracy and literacy. Vietnamese students not only performed with the same success as countries like Austria and Germany, but they also outperformed two-thirds of the other countries who participated in PISA that year, ranking 17th out 65 countries. 

Educational reform, closing enrollment gaps, active teaching practices and the like have played major roles in the evolution of Vietnam’s education system over the last two decades. While there is still work to be done, Vietnam has taken large steps in recent years to prove its willingness to make quality education for all a top priority. 

– Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

rice farmer povertyRice is a universal food staple, featured in dishes from across the globe, feeding the rich and poor alike. It has the second-largest cereal market in the world, only second to corn. Over 470 million tons of rice were harvested in 2017, and that number continues to grow, with a harvest of 495.9 million tons predicted for the 2019 season.

Despite the massive rice market, many rice farmers live in poverty. Nine hundred million of the world’s poor depend on rice either as a consumer or producer, with 400 million directly engaged with growing rice. The majority of these farmers are based in Asia, the heart of the global rice market.

Technological Improvements Reduce Rice Farmer Poverty

The rice crop is notoriously demanding on the environment, requiring an immense volume of water, especially when grown at high intensity. Rice farming consumes over half the freshwater in Asia. Much of the focus on improving rice production lies in reducing the amount of water used. Organizations, such as the CGIAR Research Program, have advocated the use of alternate planting systems, such as the Alternate Wetting and Drying system (AWD), which can reduce water consumption by up to 30 percent.

Greater water efficiency means greater productivity for farmers. Production costs are lower, so farmers profit more from their harvest and can afford to sell their crop for less, allowing those in deep poverty to afford rice. AWD has been shown to increase farmer income by 38 percent in Bangladesh, 32 percent in the Philippines, and 17 percent in Vietnam.

Not Just Rice

Even in areas with a booming rice market, rice farmer poverty continues. The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) spans six Asian countries, including China and Vietnam, and accounts for 44 percent of global rice exports. The six countries, save China, of these nations are net producers—they produce and export more rice than the nation can consume. Despite this, poverty stands at 19 percent across the GMS, and 15 percent of the population is malnourished.

There has been much improvement. GMS-member Cambodia, for example, has undergone a 35 percent decrease in poverty since 2004. However, much of it is unstable. Past expansions in the GMS rice-production have relied on favorable weather conditions, massive increases in farmland, and far-reaching use of fertilizer. These conditions are not favorable for agricultural or economic growth, with increases in land production outpacing that of productivity, 8.7 percent to 3.4 percent between 2004 and 2012.

The GMS and other rice-producing regions are now changing policy to focus on diversifying crops. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) encourages farmers to convert rice-rice and rice-wheat plants to rice-maize plants, which will allow farmers to optimize their resources, widen their range of income inputs, and reduce the risk of crop disease. Studies have shown that planting disease-vulnerable rice crop and disease-resistant crop together results in 89 percent greater yield.

This measure may also be needed in the more distant future. Though rice will always be a world staple, Asian consumers may begin to purchase more vegetables and meat as they grow wealthier, decreasing the world demand for rice.

Genetic Modifications

With rice featuring so heavily in the global diet, rice developers have prioritized the quality of rice grown, both in resilience, and health benefits. The Research Program on Rice and IRRI both work to improve the quality of rice seeds provided to rice farmers. In Africa, AfricaRice has lifted 8 million out of poverty with their improved seed quality.

By using a greater variety of improved seeds, farmers of 16 sub-Saharan countries were able to vastly improve their yields. Forty-five percent of farmers saw themselves lifted out of food insecurity following the 2008 food crisis.

Improvements in agriculture and the betterment of rice farmer poverty go hand in hand, and as one improves, the other will, as well. There’s been significant progress already, with the rice market acting as an escape from food insecurity for millions. There is still much work to be done, but organizations like the IRRI make steady progress to a healthier, wealthier world.

– Katie Hwang
Photo: Flickr

Vitens Evides International
Currently, over 660 million individuals around the world do not have access to clean, potable water. However, the Utretch, Netherlands-based organization Vitens Evides International (VEI) aims to change this. VEI partners with local companies to deliver clean water to individuals in transitioning and developing countries. Their work has already reached the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, as they have entered into productive partnerships with companies in Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique, among others.

Notable Partnerships

Upon entering into a WOP (water-operator partnership) both the local company and VEI get to work implementing technologies and strategies to help improve water quality and accessibility. One of VEI’s most successful partnerships came in 2008, when they partnered with local company SAWACO in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. VEI was able to successfully fix the issue of water system leakage in the city and improve clean water distribution. They were also able to train individuals in the community on how to maintain a functional, efficient water purification and distribution system, ensuring that the work done by this particular WOP had long-lasting impact.

Another notable partnership came in 2015 when VEI worked with FIPAG, a local water supply company in the city of Maputo, Mozambique. Their combined efforts to install new drinking water distribution centers and improve household connections to these centers has helped bring clean, potable water to many people residing in Maputo.

The Statistics

VEI’s yearly statistics are impressive. In 2018, they worked on over 40 projects in 20 different countries and helped over 300,000 individuals gain access to clean water. The number of individuals that have gained access to clean water as a result of VEI’s work has grown in 3 consecutive years; as such, VEI is aiming to help another 350,000 individuals gain access to clean water by 2020. The company has a strong vision and driven leadership at the helm. Given all of this, it seems VEI is set up for future success.

Sustainable Development Goals

VEI’s work helps to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal #6, which is to ensure all individuals have access to clean water and sanitation. Accomplishing such a goal will help achieve a number of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) as well; having access to clean water helps to alleviate poverty and promote educational opportunities (SDG’s #1 and #4) as individuals will be able to spend more time working or obtaining an education and less time looking for water. In addition, individuals with access to clean water will be far healthier, which will contribute towards the achievement of SDG #3.

Future Impact

As mentioned above, VEI is looking to continue to make a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people across the developing world. They have recently secured partnerships with companies such as STUCO (Aruba) and WEB (Bonaire), as well as DWASA (Bangladesh). Each of these partnerships promises to contribute to the end goal of providing clean, potable water to everyone around the globe. Such a future may now be closer than ever.

Kiran Matthias
Photo: Flickr

Girls' education in Vietnam

“Girls’ education…is a primary issue in terms of breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and CEO of the group Save the Children, and this is especially true of girls’ education in Vietnam. Save the Children works in more than 120 countries to improve the lives of children and young people.

In Lao Cai province, one of the poorest regions in Vietnam, a significant number of girls lack access to basic needs. These needs include clean drinking water, toilets and basic education. Moreover, many women in the province suffer heinous human rights violations and have the highest illiteracy rates in Vietnam. Data show at least half of children 10 years old and older in Vietnam are illiterate. In fact, the illiteracy rates for girls are higher when compared to boys.

In primary school, girls’ education in Vietnam sees a high enrollment rate. However, it also sees a low attendance rate. In addition, many girls ultimately drop out of school. In more rural areas of Vietnam, low attendance rates increase due to lack of transportation. Transportation faces challenges like distance and damaged roads from wars. Furthermore, costs prevent many girls from continuing education in Vietnam. These costs include tuition and fees, plus textbooks, which are not free at secondary and tertiary levels. Instead of sending girls to school, many families more them to work and help the family. As a result, the Vietnamese government has been prioritizing gender equality and strategizing to improve girls’ education in Vietnam.

Making Improvements

The government of Vietnam has shown commitment to prioritizing and promoting gender equality. Nevertheless, the improvement of girls’ education in Vietnam remains a work in progress. To improve this, the Vietnamese government partnered with UNESCO and other developmental organizations. In particular, the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training worked with UNESCO to establish the Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam under the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

The Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam gives girls and women a platform in Vietnam to fight for their human rights. For instance, the initiative provides education, raises awareness and teaches leadership training.

As listed on the UNESCO page, the objectives of the initiative are:

  1. “Reinforce gender equality in the Education Sector planning and management to empower girls and women.”

  2. “Enhance the capacity of education officials, teachers and experts to mainstream gender equality in curriculum and teaching practices.”

  3. “Raise awareness of students, parents, community members and the media to support the enabling environment for girls’ and women’s education and gender mainstreaming.”

UNESCO and other development organizations contribute to fostering a supportive environment for girls and women in Vietnam, especially within the educational setting. In Vietnam, UNESCO aims to create a fair environment where males and females both have a future and benefit from an equal-gender system of education.

Fifita Mesui
Photo: Flickr