For my generation, the very idea of Viet Nam can still be still touchy. I am not a Viet Nam veteran, but I am a Viet Nam-era veteran (under the North Atlantic). But some of the pain of the powerfully moving Viet Nam War Memorial subsides when I read stories like this.
Vietnam's agricultural miracle was achieved by a simple but powerful device: the invisible hand of Adam Smith's free market. Having snatched the land from the people in the disastrous collectivisation, the government gave it back to them (evenly shared among households) on longish leases, starting in the late 1980s. This was similar to China's agricultural reforms around the same time, which also greatly reduced poverty by giving small farmers exclusive rights to work their plots. However, in China the freehold of the land remains vested in local collectives, without a clear indication of who represents them. That allows unscrupulous local officials to sell land to developers from under the feet of farmers. In Vietnam the freehold remains with the central government, so such problems are rarer.Farmers around the world are suddenly in the spotlight. And for an occupation of last resort, I am happy to see so many international colleagues suddenly experience a moment (hopefully longer) of prosperity. They also reinforce the importance diplomatically of free trade. But since we get shrimp from Viet Nam, I noted this passage with interest:
Creating large-scale and equitable land ownership—one of the biggest privatisations yet seen—was one of several steps that freed Vietnamese farmers to conquer the world, explains Vo Tri Thanh of the Central Institute for Economic Management in Hanoi. Another was the stabilisation of the economy in the mid-1980s, bringing inflation down from a hair-raising 1,000% or so. A third was the gradual liberalisation of farm prices. Also important, says Mr Thanh, was Vietnam's increasingly open trade policy. [More]
Until now the government and the international agencies advising it wanted farmers to move away from bulk commodities and diversify their crops faster. However, says Mr Chhibber, the World Bank's boss in Vietnam, the recent recovery in commodity food prices should prompt a rethink. Perhaps, with the world crying out for just the sort of staples Vietnam is good at growing, it should stick to them. In February President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines, which is struggling to feed its growing population, publicly asked Vietnam to guarantee its supplies of rice. The Vietnamese government is beginning to worry that diversification may have gone too far, with many rice growers in the Mekong Delta having switched to shrimp farming.Just to be sure, I'm loading up on shrimp at Sam's this week. I'll keep them in the basement freezer beside my 82 bags of rice.