At what price rice? Food security, livelihood vulnerability, and state interventions in upland northern Vietnam




In the northern uplands of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the state is taking dramatic steps to (re)configure agricultural production through the introduction and subsidisation of hybrid rice and maize seeds. These require yearly cash investments and access to state supplied inputs, a far cry from earlier upland ethnic minority livelihood strategies. In this paper we develop a conceptual framework that brings together an actor-oriented livelihoods approach with concepts from everyday politics and resistance, to examine the relations now at play as ethnic minorities, namely Hmong and Yao households in Lào Cai province, react to the introduction of these hybrid seeds, negotiate with the state over their use, and contest and subtly resist the wholesale adoption of this programme. Our framework takes us beyond an investigation into financial benefits and yields, to focus upon the social, cultural and political aspects inherent in upland farmer decision-making regarding state interventions. Our findings reveal that such agricultural programmes have resulted in new food insecurities and vulnerabilities overlaying more established concerns. Yet in turn, ethnic minority households evaluate these innovations according to their own terms, and have responded by negotiating, accommodating, and also contesting the state’s initiatives using creative and innovative everyday politics and livelihood strategies. In so doing, they have worked to maintain autonomy over choices and decision-making vis-à-vis the economic, social and cultural reproduction of their household units; a delicate balancing act in a socialist state.