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​Dong Thap is a model for reducing internal migration in Vietnam

Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 11:17 GMT+7

Editor’s note: A former provincial chairman believes that towns in the Mekong Delta should keep local farmers where they are through vocational training and support, rather than having them leave for big cities, only to continue to struggle or even become homeless.

Nguyen Minh Nhi, a former chairman of An Giang Province, has argued in a piece sent to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that Dong Thap Province is a role model for other Mekong Delta provinces in reducing internal migrants.

The Mekong Delta is an agriculture-focused region, usually referred to as Vietnam’s rice bowl, that has recently been seriously affected by climate change, causing drought and salinization. 

This piece follows an op-ed by Dr. Nguyen Minh Hoa, who said big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are overcrowded by internal migrants.

The ‘Binh Duong’ trend

In recent years, many underprivileged people from the Mekong Delta have taken up the trend of ‘moving to Binh Duong,’ or have left their homeland to become factory workers in the industrial province near Ho Chi Minh City. 

At first glance, 'moving to Binh Duong' appears a good choice for people here in the Mekong Delta, as it comes with the promise of a new job, new hope, and a future without farming, and ultimately, poverty.

However, stories from the first followers of this trend paint a gloomy picture. 

What a sad reality it is when a farmer, having relocated to Binh Duong for work, cannot even afford the trip home to attend the funeral of a family member and must wait for them to send him some money to buy the coach ticket.

Most internal migrants are unskilled workers and can only take on jobs that require muscular strength rather than professional skills. Laborers of this kind are essentially ‘eliminated’ from the market once they turn 40 years old.

A man works on a dried field in the Mekong Delta, southern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A man works on a dried field in the Mekong Delta, southern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Despite this, people in the region continue to flock to Binh Duong. Some bring the whole family there, leaving behind their locked homes and unattended gardens. In Binh Duong, the multi-member families share narrow rooms to cut costs, which enables them to save more money than they would staying in their homeland.

One can earn around VND200,000 (US$8) a day from working in the fields in the Mekong Delta, but the job is seasonal and only available for four to five months a year.

On the other hand, if a married couple both become factory workers in Binh Duong, they can collectively make up to VND10 million ($440) a month and manage to save 50 percent after deducting all costs. 

The math says it all: it is still better to 'go to Binh Duong' than stay at home and work agricultural jobs.

According to statistics, the Mekong Delta makes up 13 percent of Vietnam’s geographical area, and more than 19 percent of its population. The region even posts a higher GDP growth rate than the national average, but its per capita income is modest at VND40.2 million ($1,771) compared to the annual average of VND47.9 million ($2,110).

The key to the problem is to relocate the labor force out of the agricultural sector, but so far it’s been something that local administrators have continually been unable to do. 

Local farmers have been forced to solve the problem themselves, hence 'moving to Binh Duong' has become a popular move. 

An elderly woman is seen with her grandchildren at their house in the Mekong Delta, southern Vietnam, as those in the working age all left for Binh Duong. Photo: Tuoi Tre
An elderly woman is seen with her grandchildren at their house in the Mekong Delta, southern Vietnam, as those in the working age have all left for Binh Duong. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Let’s follow Dong Thap

The solution to the human resource problem in the Mekong Delta, according to some policymakers, starts with education, and I agree.

About 60 years ago, few in my village made it through elementary school. Anyone with ‘higher education’ than that would either become a village teacher or a great farmer, being able to apply their knowledge to the ground.

These farmers with an educational background could thrive on their own, without needing government support. In 1989, An Giang held its maiden ceremony to honor farmers with great productivity, and 100 percent of those attending were either former teachers or ‘elementary school graduates.’

I believe that their success stemmed from the fact that the then education and training program, even for elementary students, equipped them with necessary knowledge and skills to become good farmers. 

One could only achieve similar results today if they finished middle or high school. 

Nguyen Minh Nhi, a former chairman of An Giang Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Minh Nhi, a former chairman of An Giang Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Another problem is the private sector. Farmers always look to the government or state-run firms to buy their products, a model that only works in a planned economy. 

In today’s economy, private businesses must generally take charge, from organizing production to buying products, with the government only providing support or enacting regulations if required.

Over the last ten years, Dong Thap has emerged as a leader in making these types of changes. 

The provincial economy now boasts comprehensive and sustainable growth, and has also done well in altering the structure of its economy to reduce its reliance on agriculture, and focused on workforce training.

Dong Thap is home to several industrial parks attractive to investors, and also possesses a workforce capable of supplying demanding and lucrative markets such as Japan and South Korea.

Some 1,600 workers from Dong Thap left for these countries to become guest workers last year, more than any other Mekong Delta province.

So, administrators in the Mekong Delta should do as Dong Thap has been doing, so that their residents will soon stop the trend of ‘going to Binh Duong’.

The Mekong Delta includes 12 provinces -- Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, Hau Giang, Soc Trang, Dong Thap, An Giang, Kien Giang, Bac Lieu and Ca Mau, and Can Tho City.

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