Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Poverty Reduction Strategies in an Ethnic Minority Community: Multiple Definitions of Poverty among Khmer Villagers in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Poverty Reduction Strategies in an Ethnic Minority Community: Multiple Definitions of Poverty among Khmer Villagers in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Article excerpt


The Khmer people are one of four groups in the Mekong delta making up around 1.3 million of the total population of 86 million in Vietnam. They account for a large proportion of the poor compared to other group, with 53% considered falling under the poverty line (General Census of population and housing, 2009). Several national programs have been carried out to improve the lives of poor Khmer people. In An Giang province, in particular, where the majority of Khmer people live with 35% recorded poor, an agricultural development policy, a Government Program 134 (Note 1), and resolution 25 (Note 2) have been implemented, including agricultural modernization, house building, and saving credits.

Based on the field data collected from three months' ethnography in a Khmer farming village in An Giang province, this paper argues that different social actors have multi-facet definitions and measurement of poverty. Khmer's notion of being poor/well-off show little variation; they refer to define it by their own impoverished situation as due to a low level of income, coming from poor households (inherited/generational poverty), lack of sustainable work, low or no level of education, and lack of agricultural land. In particular, the latter factor is seen as an important reason for their poverty, according to their own definition. Further, there is emerging consensus among development professionals in Vietnam that poverty correlates with ethnic minority status due to low education, which leads a lack of involvement in business, an inability to manage their family finances, and a reluctance to apply for official jobs.

To the extent that Khmer people are living in poor circumstance, this paper also debates that state interventions may bring both advantages and disadvantages to the poor, such as agricultural modernization policy and saving credits for husbandry. Moreover, their livelihood practices lack dynamism, complexity, and diversity compared to poor Vietnamese people, due to their tradition and language barriers. Compared with poor Vietnamese, Khmers seem to be more excluded, more vulnerable, and insecure in attempting to move out of their poverty.

Keywords: Khmer people, Mekong delta, poverty reduction strategies, definitions of poverty

1. Introduction

Poverty reduction efforts in Vietnam, especially targeting for ethnic minorities, have been carried out by channels of the governments and organizations by implementation of various policies and projects, that its results have remarkable achievement during implemental time. Among of 53 ethnic groups in Vietnam, large amounts of Khmer populations are found in the Mekong delta make up 6.49% population (with around 1.05 million of 16 million) and 1.5% in Vietnam (roughly 1.3 million of 85.8 million) (General Statistical Office, 2009) with their poor proportion is higher than average (32% compare to 23% of entire region). The provinces with highest poor rate are also those with residing of largest Khmer population. In other words, within any province having Khmer community, poverty incidence among them is substantially higher than other provinces in the region. Such remarkable consideration seems harder for Khmer compared to other groups to escape out of poverty (MPDA, 2004). This fluctuation could indicate that changes within poverty alleviation strategies might have caused by change in some ethnic groups' poverty rate. Hence, this paper in this sense will aim to Khmer group that have lived separately in isolated area rather than the poor Khmer in other areas.

Case study of Khmer people who depends on agricultural activities in the two mountainous districts of An Giang province in the Mekong delta - Tri Ton and Tinh Bien district is the example has the poverty rate is much higher than other Kinh majority, Cham and Hoa ethnic groups in this region. There has been although implementation of poverty alleviation resolution and programs in An Giang province so as to bring better lives for the poor Khmer ethnic group. …

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