The development crisis in Vietnam's mountains

Jamieson, Neil L.
Cuc, Le Trong
Rambo, A. Terry
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Honolulu, HI: East-West Center
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The popular image of a Vietnamese landscape is that of a verdant plain checkered by rice paddies. But most of the country is actually hilly and mountainous, and a third of Vietnamese people live in upland areas. Fifty years ago, the lowlands were teeming and the mountains sparsely inhabited. Since then, rapid population growth, driven by both natural increases and national resettlement programs, has brought about drastic changes in the uplands. Poverty, population growth, environmental degradation, social marginalization, and economic dependency are now interacting to create a downward spiral that is currently reaching crisis proportions, both socially and environmentally. The significance of this crisis is overlooked because current thinking about the uplands is based on a number of popular misconceptions. Among these is the belief that the uplands are remote, empty, and exotic-certainly not central to national development. What happens there, however, has serious ramifications extending to the whole nation, and beyond it to other mountainous regions in Southeast Asia and Southwest China. Environmental degradation, the loss of biological diversity, the deterioration of watersheds and the marginalization of ethnic minorities are just some of the problems occurring in Vietnam's uplands and throughout this vast mountain region. Well-intentioned national and international efforts to ameliorate the problems have produced only very modest results. In some cases they have worsened the situation. For despite the enormous changes in the size and nature of Vietnam's upland population, a "lowland" perspective continues to dominate national life. Indeed, the imposition of lowland models upon upland realities is a major determinant of the crisis. When these simplistic and distorted views of mountain life shape development planning, they contribute to the downward spiral in which so many upland people are now caught. Thus, the spiral cannot be reversed without reform of the powerful underlying structures of knowledge, power, social organization, and economy that control the direction of development. A crucial step is to challenge the conventional wisdom that shapes development models and replace it with new approaches based on critical observation and analysis. The success or failure of efforts to develop the uplands are of critical significance to the achievement of national development goals. Unless the current downward spiral can be reversed, the future well-being of the whole country is at serious risk.
For more about the East-West Center, see
Mountain ecology - Vietnam, Vietnam - Economic conditions, Mountain people - Vietnam
32 p.
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