The six countries that compose Humidtropics’ Central Mekong Action Area are characterized by considerable ethnic diversity. They include southwestern China, northern Thailand, Laos, northeast Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
Ethnic minorities in Central Mekong have been marginalized socially, culturally, economically, politically, and geographically, although the extent of such marginalization varies among the six countries. Such realities are also reflected in agricultural development: in northwest Vietnam, ethnic minority farmers predominantly occupy agricultural production, and play a very small role further along the supply chain, with the Kinh ethnic majority group exclusively in charge of collection of products at the district and provincial levels and the use of export agents.
Such marginalization of ethnic minority groups is further compounded by the fact that official information about these peoples is far from complete. As a result, the significant disparities in farming practices and incomes between ethnic minorities and the dominant ethnic group(s), as well as among different ethnic minorities, have not been sufficiently documented or studied.
In 2014, Humidtropics researchers conducted situational analyses in northwest Vietnam and southwest China that demonstrated that ethnic minority groups, particularly those living in upland areas, tend to have less material wealth, lower school attendance rates, and fewer job opportunities and market access. The situational analyses also concluded that women of all ethnicities are more disadvantaged, due to disparity in educational and job opportunities.
Rural women play a key role in farming activities, carrying out, for example, 60% of the farming workload in northwest Vietnam. However, women have lower literacy rates (women over 15 years of age in three provinces of northwest Vietnam have 20% lower literacy rates than men; women living in medium and high elevations in Xishuangbanna, China, have 10-13% lower literacy rates), and often do not participate in vocational training courses and off-farm employment opportunities because of the communities’ preconceived notions about gender roles, especially in ethnic minority communities. Ethnic minority women are thus further marginalized.
Recognizing the risk that Humidtropics’ research and interventions could fail to reach some ethnic minorities – especially women – and further reinforce patterns of marginalization, a special research project focusing on women and ethnic minorities entitled Transforming social inequality: Advancing marginalized groups in agricultural research for development in the Central Mekong was initiated in 2015.
Given that ethnic minorities have specific norms, values and needs, we have to develop approaches to agricultural interventions that are socially and culturally acceptable and adaptable for them. At the same time, it is necessary to shift the existing modalities of implementing agricultural research for development (R4D) that do not include marginalized communities.
As part of the activities of this project, Humidtropics held a workshop in October in Hanoi, Vietnam, to:
- Present preliminary results of research on gender norms implemented in three villages in northwest Vietnam;
- Present results of literature review and analysis on ethnic minorities in China and Vietnam;
- Discuss draft guidelines for socially inclusive research – focusing on women and upland ethnic minority smallholder farmers;
- Identify priority areas where further short-term or long-term research is required.
Discussions on the draft guidelines and plans for follow-up research involved social scientists from different backgrounds: experts on governance, institutions, agricultural development, anthropology, sociology, gender, and agro-economics. Participants also shared experiences from Vietnam, China, and Laos.
As a result of the workshop, they produced a draft Humidtropics strategy and guidelines for ensuring social inclusive agricultural R4D, as well as a draft research plan, including identification of specific field sites for follow-up research in 2015 and 2016.
As the project progresses, research studies will be presented to a larger group of stakeholders, which includes government representatives, national and local researchers, and NGOs working on ethnic minority or gender issues in Vietnam, and in the Central Mekong region.
“We are exploring ways we can disseminate the guidelines to other CGIAR Research Programs and institutions. Based on the follow-up research and the workshop in October, we hope to come up with another research component within Humidtropics in a step forward towards transforming social inequality in agricultural R4D in this region,” said Lisa Hiwasaki, Central Mekong Flagship Manager, Humidtropics/ICRAF.
Blog by Georgina Smith, Communications Specialist, CIAT; and edited by Valérie Poiré, Communication Officer, Humidtropics. Photos by Neil Palmer/CIAT and Georgina Smith/CIAT.
Read Georgina’s original blog on the CIAT website.