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.

Two Southeast Asian Women, One Common Thread?

In Cambodia and Burma, Stephanie Guyer-Stevens says two female leaders embody the region's hopes for democratic reform: Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi and Cambodia's Mu Sochua.

Vietnam: The Price of Rice

War decimated the landscape of Vietnam. The drastic economic times that followed drove Vietnam into the globalizing economy at lightning speed — and the country soon became the second largest exporter of rice in the world. After the war, Vietnam catapulted into the global marketplace, fast becoming the second largest producer of rice in the world. But the price of this rice is still being calculated: one out of every seven people in Vietnam goes hungry, for lack of rice, and farmers are spending more on chemical fertilizer than they are earning in profits.

Vietnam: The Price of Rice Video Slideshow

Rice is the staple of food of asia, and Vietnam is the second largest exporter of rice in the world, although it's a country about the size of California.

So the style of rice cultivation being practiced to produce such high yield is increasingly dependent on commercial fertilizers, to the point where now many farmers are only realizing a financial return large enough to buy their next year's supply of fertilizer.

Vietnam: Farm School

Tu is 21 years old, and has just graduated from University studying agriculture. At Lanh's invitation, her family has moved from their village where they were growing commercial rice, onto the farm school property to start up a sort of model farm using only permaculture techniques. Back at home they grew wetland rice - the rice grown in big flat lowland paddies. Now they are in the mountains, they're struggling, because they don't know how to grow upland rice - the kind of rice they grow here - in terraced fields.