Ensuring Household Food and Nutrition Security in Asia
Vietnam has its work cut out for it in ensuring food security for its people after being classified as a hunger hot spot in Asia because of the rapid rise in food prices in 2008.
The paper, “Food and Nutrition Security Situationer,” said most of the poor, especially those in mountainous areas, “are falling in a situation lacking food in two to three months a year.”
Despite being the second-largest rice exporter in the world, food security is obviously an issue this Southeast Asia country is grappling with, said the paper commissioned by the Asian Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition (AAAHM) and the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC).
The food crisis was hard on Vietnamese as the retail price of rice rose by a whopping 65 percent in Hanoi in the first of half of 2008, according to the Food Security Portal facilitated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI).
In response to the high rice prices, IFRI said the government cut rice exports by approximately one million ton from 2007 to 2008. The government also plans on setting up 100,000 tons of storage to keep the rice prices stable, it said.
The food security paper said Vietnam exports 4-5 million tons of rice annually, while yield is at 40 million tons a year.
The paper said given the country’s population, per capita of grain per year should be 470 kg. But the reality is, it said, 3 million “poor households” and about 1.6 million “marginally poor households” go hungry.
Overview of food and nutrition status
The food security paper said when Vietnam began its economic reform in 1986, food security was prioritized in the national policy, significantly improving the situation. It cited Vietnam’s feat of becoming a major rice exporter.
At the same time, the paper said food security does not only concern adequate supply of food. “Availability of nutritious food and the accessibility to the production resources to earn for food, should be taken into account,” it stressed.
“By that concept, many poor in Vietnam remain food insecure and face risks such as land loss, land degradation, unemployment, unfair trading, and so on, in which, their rights to food, rights to production resources are disregarded.”
IFRI said Vietnam has been classified as one of the hunger hot spots in Asia and the Pacific based on the Global Hunger Index classification, which is a composite measure of hunger comprising of population undernourishment, child malnutrition, and child mortality. At the sub-national level, it added coastal regions in Central Vietnam that are susceptible to typhoons have been classified as relatively vulnerable to food insecurity, citing a 2009 report from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Unescap).
“Food security is a concern because even though Vietnam is the second largest exporter of rice, many rural households are net buyers of food,” IFRI said. For example, approximately 53 percent of the population in the Mekong Delta and 55 percent in the Red River Delta are net purchasers of food, it said, again citing the Unescap report.
The food security paper said lack of micro-nutrients like vitamin A, iron, zinc, among others, has stunted children in Vietnam, seriously affecting their physical, mental, intellectual development as well as their resistance to infections.
Citing a 2009 survey from the National Institute of Nutrition, it said more than 30 percent of children under 5 are malnourished and suffer from stunting. Children under 2 years old also receive insufficient micro-nutrients. Only 17 percent of the children are fully breast-fed for the first six months, the paper added.
Climate change is also a factor in food security due to its impact on agriculture. The paper said Vietnam has one of the smallest “agriculture land per capita” in the world. “Natural disaster, disease and the impacts of climate changes are threatening agriculture. Vietnam is one of the five countries that suffered the most from climate change.”
Total food production, in fact, is predicted to fall by 5 million tons under the scenario of sea water rising by one meter and affecting the rice production areas of Red River Delta and the Cuu Long River Delta, according to the paper.
Overview of policies and programs
The paper acknowledged the government had initiated programs to reduce hunger and malnutrition in the country. It said that from 1998, poverty reduction was made a national policy and incorporated in “social policies system” in the country.
One of these programs was the National Target Program on Poverty Reduction. Implemented between 1998 and 2000 as part of the national socioeconomic development program, it was aimed to support mountainous and remote areas including settled agriculture and residence work and support poor and ethnic minorities in spurring production and raising incomes. The program in fact enabled the government to meet its target of reducing poverty levels.
In 2002, the government also approved a program to enable Vietnam to meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) commitments, the paper said.
It also cited programs aimed at improving infrastructure, as well as one which targeted poverty reduction in 62 poor districts in 20 provinces.
The paper said the government also helped people victimized by natural disasters. It even introduced agricultural insurance to mitigate losses due to natural disasters and diseases.
As a result of these programs, the paper said “from 1992 to 1998 with a lot of effort, the poverty rate in Vietnam annually decreased 2 to 3 percent. By the end of 2010, Vietnam’s poverty rate is at 9.45 percent.”
The paper said, however, not all government programs were pro-poor. In fact, Vietnam’s push to integrate its economy with the regional and world markets had worked against the poor, the paper said.
Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), in particular, had negative consequences for the poor, it said. Because of its WTO commitments, Vietnam has become a dumping ground for cheap goods from other countries. But “being a developing country, Vietnam has insufficient resources to enable her to enjoy the instruments for dispute resettlements ‘granted’ within WTO,” the paper said.
“Unless such unfair treatment ceases. These factors have made Vietnam vulnerable in which, the poor suffer the most.”
To a certain extent, the paper said the poor were also put at a disadvantage by the government’s policy to offer generous fiscal incentives to foreign investors. Because of such perks, small business players are unable to compete fairly with big players, particularly transnational corporations, the paper said.
“Opening up the economy also puts pressure on land issues, in which, re-structuring land use has caused conflict between the national interest and the land user’s interest,” the paper said. At the policy level, the concerns of the poor are virtually disregarded. “This in turn creates more burdens for the people, especially the poor.”
The paper also scored Vietnam’s push for industrialization and urbanization, which it said was done at the expense of agriculture. Over the past five years, the loss of agricultural land has threatened the livelihoods of 3 million people, it said.
Citing statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the paper said that between 2001 and 2005, up to 366,000 ha of agricultural land were converted to non-agricultural production, accounting for 3.9 percent of the total agriculture land. By 2025, it is estimated that 10-15 percent of agriculture land will be used for industrial development.
“In many provinces, local governments do not have insights into food and agriculture development and have traded off food security for non-productive industrial development. This conflict has wasted land leading to the land resources loss of livelihoods of the poor and farmers,” according to the paper.
“Lack of livelihoods, production resources, and knowledge on how to use land, no land loss compensation money, no financial support policies, etc., equate to people living in a very difficult life situation that threatens their food security.”
The paper also expressed concern about Vietnam’s fertilizer use. It said uncontrolled fertilizer use is putting not only farmers’ livelihood at risk but also the environment. “This is an economic disaster that requires farmers paying more than necessary, causing also negative impact on food security.”
The paper said civil society organizations and nongovernmental organizations implemented their own programs to help the poor. NGOs, in particular, promoted smallholder and sustainable agriculture as a means of achieving food security, it added.
According to the paper, sustainable agriculture has the following advantages in “ensuring household food security and nutrition”:
– Using ecological principles increases bio-diversity. Not only are animals’ homes saved, but the natural ecological system protects itself from soil erosion, severe herbivore predation, and crop disease;
– Since insecticides and pesticides are not used, pollution and the harmful effects of ingesting these poisons are not an issue;
– Since each intercropping plant supplies different nutrients to the soil, less or (even no) fertilizers are added to the soil;
– This type of agriculture is aligned with nature and uses the principles of nature to sustain itself;
– Farmers experience less or no economic loss with this type of agriculture system because the natural environment protects itself from crop disease (due to diversity of species), soil erosion (benefits of intercropping plants with different harvesting periods), flooding (the intercropping plants absorb heavy rain-falls), droughts (the intercrops provide moisture and shade for each other), and fire (extra moisture and shade keeps plants from drying out and becoming more susceptible to fire).
Despite progress, Vietnam has a long way to go to achieving food security. The paper enumerated a number of recommendations the Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition, or AAHM, both at the national and regional levels, should push for.
The AAHM national alliance can:
– Create a forum for connecting civil society organizations (CSO) interested in food and nutrition security in order to have collective action to fight poverty;
– Develop advocacy competence in both theoretical and practical levels;
– Participate in the policy dialogue as government draws up
Social Economic Development Programs towards sustainable agricultural smallholder production; value chains and small-scale enterprises led by small farmers, fishers, indigenous people organizations, and cooperatives; climate change mitigation in order to provide a means of livelihood for the poor; mobilize people to participate in rolling out grassroots democracy scheme in budget tracking, in formulating food security policy, and implementation; enable the community to network to support each other and to have a strong collective voice.
In the next two years, the AAHM national alliance should push for the following:
– Policy advocacy for enhancing food and nutrition security especially in small food producing households;
– Policy advocacy for supporting agricultural insurance for the poor and small-scale producers;
– Policy advocacy for supporting the livelihoods of the poor in the context of land losses (due to climate change, land degradation, land loss due to industrialization and urbanization, among others);
– Policy advocacy for supporting agricultural markets for small producers;
The paper also pressed for capacity-building schemes for NGOs and rural poor organizations for policy advocacy and field projects, on sustainable smallholder agricultural practices towards food and nutrition security, and for disaster control and climate change assessment on food and nutrition security.
It also pressed for studies on the following:
– Livelihoods for the poor in the context of land losses (land losses due to climate change, land degradation, land loss due to industrialization and urbanization);
– Assessment on consultation capacity on livelihood and value chain of small-scale producers in order to identify a strategy on capacity building for NGOs;
– Assessment on the impacts of climate change and verifying the realities of a climate change scenario and a national strategy on climate change for food and nutrition security.
At the regional level, the paper said that in the next two years, regional AAHM alliances should network and share experiences on practical food and nutrition security achievements, including policy dialogue between CSOs, decision makers and duty bearers at both the national and the regional levels.
Vietnam: Food and Nutrition Security Situationer, commissioned by the Asian Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition (AAAHM) and the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC)
Vietnam, Food Security Portal. http://www.foodsecurityportal.org/vietnam/resources