Dragons with Clay Feet? Transition, Sustainable Land Use, and Rural Environment in China and Vietnam

Article excerpt

Dragons with Clay Feet? Transition, Sustainable Land Use, and Rural Environment in China and Vietnam, edited by Max Spoor, Nico Heerink and Futían Qu. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007. xiv + 341 pp. US$95.00 (hardcover).

Dragons with Clay Feet claims to present "state-of-the-art research" on the effects which economic policies and institutional reforms have on agricultural development and sustainable resource use in China and Vietnam. Its chief concern is rather self-evident from the title. China and Vietnam are "dragons" that have risen, economically speaking, over the last two decades. Such phenomenal economic growth is accompanied by intensified ecological degradation, which the editors liken to "clay feet" - although I thought that dragons had "claws"! Anyhow, the relationship between economic development and environmental degradation is a prevalent concern both within the two countries and among concerned observers: a book focusing on this topic and providing comparative analyses of China and Vietnam is indeed timely and necessary.

The book's composition, however, does not fulfill its professed aims. Of the sixteen chapters, the six chapters in Part I are devoted to regional inequality and the sectoral impacts of economic reforms, the six chapters in Part II focus on household production responses, and the three in Part III look at sustainable land management. What is the relationship between regional inequalities and environmental degradation? None of the chapters in Part I discuss this supposed connection, nor is it spelled out in the Introduction. How have household level farming decisions affected environmental change in the context of transitional economies? Most of the chapters in Part II, unfortunately, do not flesh out this connection.

One insight from Part II comes from the chapter by Jing Zhu and Yousheng Li, which attempts to provide a model simulation estimating how increased state investments in agricultural research could be utilized as a policy tool to reduce use of chemical fertilizers. This chapter, however, seems a better fit with Part III. It reads nicely in combination with the chapter by Merritt van den Berg, Guanhe Wang and Reimund Roetter, which examines how agricultural technology can be applied effectively to turn around the "agricultural pollution" caused by technology abuse, namely over-utilization of chemical fertilizers, through extension services and focused research investments. …


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