Vietnam: The Price of Rice

The doubling of the price of rice in Asia has given rise to what some have coined "the Asian Food Crisis." While some economists feel that this is a temporary price hike, others see that the devastation from the recent cyclone in the central rice growing region of Burma can only exacerbate this condition, however temporary.

Regardless it is already the case that hunger experts are seeking out large scale responses, including stepping up commercial agricultural techniques with such means as the introduction of genetically modified rice and related products into the region. Outer Voices travels to Vietnam to document the work of the Vietnamese NGO SPERI. Their mission is to create a sustainable agricultural system for Vietnam, by shoring up traditional agricultural practices, supporting traditional culture and society, and drawing on the capacities of its own people to determine the best route for change.

By doing so they think Vietnam can create a stronger economic foundation that can resist the pressures of the market economy. Since Vietnam is a communist country, this effort at "bottom up" development has an unusual degree of possibility for success - and thus Vietnam has a possibility for leading a charge for economic sustainability for Southeast Asia which might fail in other countries. This piece is the fifth in a series of profiles by Outer Voices of women leaders in non-violent social change in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Vietnam: The Road to Cau Treo

We return from Ke village well after dark. Where we're staying is closest to the village of Nuoc Sot, really nothing more than an intersection in the road, an army barracks, and a hot springs resort, which seems a bit overbuilt, considering the size of the local population.

Vietnam: The Malieng

On this side of the Ca Tang River we're now in Ke village, home of about 70 Malieng families. The Malieng are the smallest ethnic group in Vietnam – about 1400 left in Vietnam, maybe another 1000 living in Laos. Traditionally they're forest dwellers – hunter-gatherers, and practitioners of swidden agriculture.

Vietnam: The Price of Rice

It's late morning, hot, cicadas are buzzing at full throttle already. Water buffaloes are slowly making their way down into the river. Dogs are sleeping in the shade beneath the bamboo. We're well off the highway, having made our way in low gear down a steep rutted four wheel drive path, and we're now at the river which the locals call Ca Tang. We're about ten kilometers from the Laos border, and just north of the former DMZ – the demilitarized zone, the demarcation line created between north and south Vietnam during what the Vietnamese call The American War.