Samstag, 10. November 2012

The Vuon Case

Pollution Aqua Farming

A Vietnamese farmer caught up in the conflicting forces of environmentalism and political arbitrariness

Text and Photography by Lydia Ciesluk

A controversial case of self-justice brought the orderly city of Hai Phong located at Vietnam's north-east coast into the headlines in January 2012. Dozens of policemen tried to evict the farmer Doan Van Vuon and his family, whose land had been marked for an airport project. The clan attacked them with homemade land mines and improvised shotguns. Six of the officers executing orders of the Tien Lang district people committee were wounded. Vuon was accused of having destroyed mangroves on his land by building fish ponds. Mangrove trees protect coastlines from erosion and secure the nutritional basis of marine ecosystems.

Instead of drawing public condemnation, Vuon's resistance made him a local celebrity. State-controlled media, bloggers and many high-level government members publicly sympathised with the farmer. The case attracted so much attention that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered an investigation into the eviction and called for officials involved in the case to be punished. In fact, the family was unequally and illegally treated several times by Hai Phong authorities.

All in all, there were conflicting reasons given by the local authorities to justify the repossession attempt. The official explanation of the chairman of the Tien Lang District People's Committee (DPC) was that the end of Vuon's land use term led to the raid and the land must legally be allocated to the Commune People's Committee (CPC) for management. The chairman of the Vinh Quang Commune  People’s Committee stated that it was planned to allocate  this land to other aqua farmers. However, the chairman of the Tien Lang DPC is the older brother of the chairman of the Vinh Quang CPC. According to some state's officials of the Hai Phong City People's Committee the land should have been used for the enlargement of  Haiphong's airport following a proposal made by the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport.

MONRE Vietnam
Former Minister Prof. Dr. Dang Hung Vo
"After studying diverse documents I still do not know the real reason," states Prof. Dr. Dang Hung Vo, the former deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE). He is currently working as a professor at the Hanoi National University and an independent consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN's Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) sharing his expertise about climate change, land policy and housing development in Vietnam.

Indeed, it is very hard to decide on this case. "For constructing weapons and organizing violent attacks Vuon has to be punished according to the criminal law," says Dang Hung Vo and reveals: "On the other hand, it has already been stated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment that he will get his land back. In fact, the chairman and deputy chairman of the Tien Lang DPC and the chairman of the Vinh Quang CPC were already dismissed, and some state's officials at city, district, and commune levels were also held to account. In my opinion, the central government should take care of the punishment of all local officials involved in the destruction of Vuon's house. Administrative discipline is needed to correct illegal behaviour in a stronger way. Additionally, the highest leaders of the Hai Phong City should resign."

Doan Van Vuon had spent 18 years and all his savings turning 40 hectares of coastal swampland into a productive agricultural farm. Since there is no private ownership of land in Vietnam, Vuon had to request land allocated by the State for short term use. This policy makes millions of farmers in the country fall victim to the whims of local authorities. In Vuon's case, the district committee abused laws designed to shield against climate change to illegally repossess his land. "In retrospect, it is hard to prove, whether he did even clear the mangroves. That happened many years ago", states Hoang Quoc Dung, standing deputy cum general secretary of the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists.

Aquaculture and mangrove conservation - a dangerous liaison

The rich biodiversity of mangrove ecosystems provides perfect conditions for the breeding of shrimps and fish species. Therefore, many marine households build aquaculture farms on Vietnam's coastal wetlands. On the one hand, these farms have alleviated poverty in the country and their high economic return improved living standards. As the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states, Vietnam exported 241,000 tons of shrimp in 2010, valued to 2.1 billion U.S. dollar. On the other hand, this sector generates massive environmental problems. A report by the Environmental Justice Foundation reveals that the traditional aqua farming in Vietnam's intertidal areas exterminates enclosed mangroves within three to five years.

Aqua farms also damage associated ecosystems since they operate based on water exchange. The continuous flow spreads chemicals like disinfectants, antibiotics, fertilizers or hormones as well as waste like faeces, uneaten food, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide into receiving waters and grounds. Thus, wild fish and shrimp populations are biologically polluted while soil and surface water supplies suffer from salinisation. "Additionally, the high biological oxygen demand of aqua farms depletes ground water", explains environment management expert Le Hoang Lan. "Accusing Vuon of polluting the water environment has also been used as justification by the Tien Lang district people committee to repossess his land." Shrimp might be tiny but they exacerbate one of Vietnam's biggest problems - global climate change.

A climate change loser

Vietnam is particularly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions due to its extensive 3,260-kilometer-coastline, the Mekong's and Red River's vast deltas and mountainous areas on its borders. The World Bank ranks the country among the top five most threatened by a global rise in the sea level. Due to higher global temperatures and the ongoing melting of the world's biggest ice sheets, sea levels are projected to rise by around 30 centimetres by 2050. Vietnam is only responsible for a rather small share of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, Vietnam emitted 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per person while the US emitted 18 tonnes.

Oxfam reports that the general intensity and unpredictability of rainfall, floods and typhoons pressuring the country has increased in the last 50 years while droughts have lasted longer. These extreme weather events are expected to occur even more frequently resulting in declining agricultural incomes and higher food prices. Accordingly, there is a real risk that climate change will slow down Vietnam's progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goals. The United Nations estimate that the Vietnamese government’s ambition to pull millions of people out of poverty are seriously endangered by climatic developments. According to the World Bank's 'Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change' study, the livelihoods of Vietnam's poorest farmers will be hit hardest.

Vietnam's exposure to weather risks created the necessity to legislate conservation laws aimed at protecting the coastal wetlands. "Problematically, these laws harm the poor ones the most. There are several regulations obstructing the marine households' access to the mangrove forests their livelihood is based on", explains Hoang Quoc Dung, who also works as chief editor of science and education unit of Tien Phong daily newspaper”.

Mangrove forests combating climate change

In fact, the wetlands' smelly and swampy mangrove forests are of incredible value. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) asserts that the conservation of these woodlands can be seen as a key natural adaptation strategy to climate change. Mangroves are evergreen tropical trees or shrubs thriving in salty, oxygen-poor soils of brackish tidal waters. Physiological adjustments such as aerial roots and leaves able to excrete excess salt enable them to grow in coastal wetlands. Mangroves stabilize coastlines, coral reefs and sea-grass beds by trapping sediments in their dense network of twisted, exposed roots. "Thereby, they reduce coastal erosion and protect shores against hazards like storms or flooding", says Christoph Rosche, plant ecologist at the German Martin-Luther University's Institute of Geobotany.

In addition to these adaptation aspects, mangroves are important for the mitigation of climate change. By storing greenhouse gases in their dense biomass they lessen the carbon dioxide's contribution to global warming. "Mangroves belong to the most effective carbon capturers among all ecosystems. The tropical trees remove three to four times more carbon from the atmosphere than other forests", affirms Christoph Rosche. In 2011, a report published in 'Global Ecology and Biogeography' revealed that the world's mangroves account for 11 per cent of the total input of terrestrial carbon into the ocean and 10 per cent of the terrestrial dissolved organic carbon exported to the ocean. Even though they only cover 0.1 per cent of the earth’s continental surface.

Mangrove swamps also fulfil a crucial role in the food chain. "These extremely productive ecosystems transfer organic matter and energy from terrestrial to marine environments. Together with associated plants they build the base of marine food webs and function as nurseries for many aquatic animal species", explains Christoph Rosche. According to the 2007 conducted FAO study 'The world's mangroves', every cleared hectare of mangrove burdens coastal fisheries with a loss of some 480 kilograms of fish per year.

Economic development versus environmental protection

"Accusing Doan Van Vuon of cutting down mangroves was a false pretence. Just shortly before the raid there has been published a serial of articles about his success in building a productive aqua farm”, states the former Minister Dang Hung Vo. In July and August, 2008, journalist Lieu Chi Trung published 3 articles in a serial under the heading 'Roc Drain - Challenges do not come from the sea' (Roc Drain is the geographical name of the place where Doan Van Vuon has reclaimed vacant land to establish an aqua farm) in the Vietnam Economic News (VEN), the official voice of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce ( In this serial, the author describes Doan Van Vuon as a hero successfully cultivating wetlands by building a sea dyke and by planting mangroves. These articles reveal that he contributed to the reforestation of mangroves rather than harming the environment.

Poor Vuon built his farm close to Hai Phong's Cat Bi airport, a project that has proved attractive to investors due to its expansion potential. So far the operating airlines Jetstar Pacific Airlines and Vietnam Airlines only offer six departures per day, even though the area is just a stones throw away from the scenic tourist magnets of Cat Ba island and Ha Long Bay.

Doan Van Vuon is only one of the state's millions of farmers driven to the wall by the systemic abuse of environmental laws. His case represents Vietnam's political dilemma between pushing the socio-economic development and simultaneously trying to address climate change in a progressive way.

Helplessly exposed to inconsistent policies

In the 1990s, Vietnam's Government actively encouraged the growth of aquatic production to increase exports. Following the course of the extensive reform program 'Doi Moi', preferential taxation and financial support were offered to farmers using coastal wetlands to breed fish and shrimp. Thus, the agricultural engineer Vuon became an aqua farmer when he moved to Vinh Quang Village in 1997.

For years, the Vuon family worked under oppressing heat in the damp atmosphere of a stinking swampland to create useable farming ground. Accompanied by plenty of mosquitoes and the tidal rise and fall of the water level they built ponds, sluices and a dike at the river mouth protecting the coastline from tropical storms. Within this process, Vuon lost his daughter and nephew who drowned in the marsh.

By 2012, the engineer had increased his family enterprise to a 40-hectare biotope. After a long period of experimenting, the farm became the perfect breeding ground for fish and shrimp and turned a small profit. Embedded in tropical grasses and trees with dark-green, slightly fleshy leaves the ponds were connected by self-made bridges. Also, Doan Van Vuon built a modest two-story house as well as homes for his brothers' families on the ground. All of them were bulldozed after the raid on January 5, 2012, coercing Vuon's wife to take shelter under a tarp. Their farm was completely devastated and all 20 ponds of highly valuable mature fish looted.

A legal framework opening up the door to power abuse

In 2009, Vuon had already filed a lawsuit against the local authorities. He feared the loss of his land and livelihood because he was only issued a 14-year grant agreement. That was illegal. Vietnam's 1993 land law guarantees conditional 20-year land grants. The dispute resulted in the district authorities' offer that Vuon could stay on his land if he would withdraw his complaint.

Hai Phong Vuon
Seafood harvested on a Vietnamese Aqua Farm
Two years later, the officials incorrectly applied the Land Law to recover aqua farm in currently successful use by Vuon. Additionally, the officials also applied terms specified in environmental protection laws to justify their business plans as coercive land recovery. They used article 6 of the 2003 Fisheries Law prohibiting "the illegal exploitation and destruction of [...]submarine plantation systems, mangrove forests and other aquatic habitats" to declare the attempted land allocation in a manner beneficial to them. Additionally, they accused Vuon of the destruction of mangrove aquaculture violating article 47 of the Law of Environmental Protection 2005. Thus, legal documents designed to compensate Vietnam's vulnerability to climate change provided local officials with remarkable power. "They also offer a huge potential for abuse. The legal framework is so complex, ambiguous and confusing that farmers following one environmental law simultaneously violate another one", states environmental consultant Le Hoang Lan. 

Vuon - Just a Pawn or a Change Driver?

"However, it is impossible to get accurate figures stating how many farmers have lost their livelihood in a similar way as Vuon. We can only count several hundred cases of public grievance every year", adds journalist Hoang Quoc Dung. A figure that is official are 2.8 million people employed in Vietnam's aquaculture sector. According to the Ministry of Natural Natural Resources and Environment, all of them are seriously jeopardized by increased flooding and salinity.

So far, the Vuon case has speeded up the Government's decision on an agricultural land reform in Vietnam. In 2013, millions of land users holding 20-year land use right , which were signed in 1993, will run out. "In fact, the farmer's shooting put so much pressure on the legal decision makers, that it has already been decided that all of them will be extended automatically," states Dang Hung Vo. According to him, only 50 percent of the members of the Central Committee of Communist Party voted for an extension of these use terms  Now, influenced by the case Vuon, almost all members support this policy. Thus, the use term of agriculture land will be newly determined. Currently, it is discussed about 50, 70 and 99 year long terms of use. "In my view, the state should allocate agricultural land to farmers forever. The whole extension process is way too complicated. It harms our farmers' willingness to invest and impacts our whole economy negatively," emphasizes Dang Hung Vo.

The former deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) summarizes: "The violent actions of Doan Van Vuon have indicated how important land to our farmers is and how far they can go when facing the loss of their livelihood. They also demonstrated that the relationship between local authorities and the people in Vietnam has to be improved. The lesson to learn from this case is that the private possession of land will stabilize our society. Long-term land use rights secure investments and hold up the ongoing rural migration. If we then succeed in implementing environmental protection regulations in our land law, our society will make a huge step forward."    

1 Kommentare:

Dr Purva Pius hat gesagt…

Hello Everybody,
My name is Mrs Sharon Sim. I live in Singapore and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of S$250,000.00 to start my life all over as i am a single mother with 3 kids I met this honest and GOD fearing man loan lender that help me with a loan of S$250,000.00 SG. Dollar, he is a GOD fearing man, if you are in need of loan and you will pay back the loan please contact him tell him that is Mrs Sharon, that refer you to him. contact Dr Purva Pius,via email:( Thank you.


1. Name Of Applicant in Full:……..
2. Telephone Numbers:……….
3. Address and Location:…….
4. Amount in request………..
5. Repayment Period:………..
6. Purpose Of Loan………….
7. country…………………
8. phone…………………..
9. occupation………………
11.Monthly Income…………..

Email Kindly Contact:

Kommentar veröffentlichen

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Web Hosting Coupons