Ethnic minority livelihoods contesting state visions of 'ideal farmers' in Vietnam's northern borderlands

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Since the 1990s, several Vietnamese state policies have focused on whole-heartedly integrating upland ethnic minority farmers into the market economy. These policies revolve around interventions related to natural resource use, agricultural intensification, and cash-cropping, in a quest to produce 'ideal farmers.' Simultaneously, the growing frequency of extreme weather extremes has been impacting upland livelihoods in important ways. Consequently, farmers must now navigate an increasingly complex socio-political and natural environment when making livelihood decisions. This study focuses on a mountainous district in the Sino-Vietnamese borderlands. Through in-depth qualitative fieldwork with ethnic minority semi-subsistence farmers and local officials, we delve into the ways in which farmers respond to the unpredictable interplay of state interventions and extreme weather events. Rooted in contemporary political ecology debates, we adopt a multi-scalar approach while drawing on actor-oriented livelihood conceptualizations. Our findings show that the Vietnamese state has failed to convince upland farmers to fully commit to state-endorsed cash-cropping schemes. Yet, farmers do not necessarily reject such opportunities outright. Rather, they navigate and rework state-supported opportunities, all while remaining acutely attuned to local physical environment limits, important social networks, and cultural norms and expectations.

Keywords: Vietnam, rural livelihoods, ethnic minorities, black cardamom, environmental rule, agrarian transition., Ethnic minorities

How to Cite: Slack, P. & Turner, S. (2023) “Ethnic minority livelihoods contesting state visions of 'ideal farmers' in Vietnam's northern borderlands”, Journal of Political Ecology. 30(1). doi: