Vietnam’s ethnic minorities thrive on connectivity: study

By Minh Nga   May 29, 2019 | 04:48 pm PT
Vietnam’s ethnic minorities thrive on connectivity: study
A family from the Mong ethnic group harvest buckwheat plants for their cattle in the northern province of Ha Giang in December 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Ethnic minorities can escape poverty with physical and economic connectivity, market linkages and opportunities to join labor markets.

A new World Bank study of six ethnic minority communities in Vietnam – San Diu, Muong, Khmer, Xo Dang, Kho Mu and Mong – shows that there are certain factors driving their socio-economic performance and well-being.

Physical and economic connectivity, market linkages, and labor market mobility are among the top factors that distinguish top-performing ethnic minority groups from the others.

Other factors include endowment of productive assets, access to education and healthcare, traditional institutions and local governance, gender roles, perception of ethnicity, and access to external support.

Ranking the six groups using the human development index and multidimensional poverty index as indicators, the study concludes that the Muong, San Diu, and Khmer are the top performers, while Kho Mu and the Mong languish at the bottom.

The way out of poverty for Muong, San Diu and Khmer groups has been facilitated by good connections between where they live and basic infrastructure and economic clusters, the study says.

Compared to other ethnic minority groups, physical connectivity has proved most convenient to the three groups. Average distances from their home to important facilities like schools, healthcare centers and markets are considerably shorter than for other groups.

Physical connectivity, alongside reduced transportation costs, improved access to markets and other economic opportunities linked to mainstream society have proved decisive.

Greater connectivity to urban areas and industrial parks gives ethnic minority youth access to opportunities in the labor market, and allows ethnic minority farmers to participate in some market value chains.

Connectivity to industrial clusters also enables many ethnic minority women to commute to work. Since distance is a factor that impacts local perceptions about women taking up paid work outside their homes, it influences how households weigh the options allowing women to seek work away from the area where they live.

The study reinforces a report released last year by the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which said: "Geographic distance is one of the biggest barriers to improving the well-being of ethnic minorities."

It makes a number of policy recommendations, including refocusing future ethnic minority development agenda and enhancing existing policies and mechanisms. Future policies should focus on soft investment in production support and capacity development, access to labor markets and women’s economic empowerment while addressing misperceptions and social stigmas, it says.

Meanwhile, current mechanisms should go beyond physical connectivity improvements towards strengthening market institutions and actors to support doing business in ethnic minority areas.

"From the study, we see tremendous opportunities to further advance the inclusion agenda by consciously adopting a differentiated approach towards development in ethnic minority areas," said WB Country Director for Vietnam, Ousmane Dione.

Vietnam is currently home to 52 minority groups who make up 14 percent of the country’s population of 95 million.

Do Van Chien, chairman of the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, said: "We find this research a valuable source of reference for our policy formulation process, especially when we are working with ministries and provinces to propose a comprehensive investment plan for socio-economic development for the ethnic minorities, mountainous and remote areas for the post 2020 period."

In 2016, ethnic minority groups had incomes and expenditures just half that of the majority groups Kinh and Hoa (of Chinese origins). 44 percent of the ethnic minorities did not have a degree, twice as high as the Kinh and Hoa. Also, almost 80 percent of Kinh and Hoa had access to sanitary latrines, while only 24 percent of ethnic minorities did.

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