Poverty Reduction Strategies in an Ethnic Minority Community: Multiple Definitions of Poverty among Khmer Villagers in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

  •  Truong Ngoc Thuy    


The Khmer people are one of four groups in the Mekong delta making up around 1.3 million of the total population of 86 million in Vietnam. They account for a large proportion of the poor compared to other group, with 53% considered falling under the poverty line (General Census of population and housing, 2009). Several national programs have been carried out to improve the lives of poor Khmer people. In An Giang province, in particular, where the majority of Khmer people live with 35% recorded poor, an agricultural development policy, a Government Program 134 (Note 1), and resolution 25 (Note 2) have been implemented, including agricultural modernization, house building, and saving credits.
Based on the field data collected from three months’ ethnography in a Khmer farming village in An Giang province, this paper argues that different social actors have multi-facet definitions and measurement of poverty. Khmer’s notion of being poor/well-off show little variation; they refer to define it by their own impoverished situation as due to a low level of income, coming from poor households (inherited/generational poverty), lack of sustainable work, low or no level of education, and lack of agricultural land. In particular, the latter factor is seen as an important reason for their poverty, according to their own definition. Further, there is emerging consensus among development professionals in Vietnam that poverty correlates with ethnic minority status due to low education, which leads a lack of involvement in business, an inability to manage their family finances, and a reluctance to apply for official jobs.
To the extent that Khmer people are living in poor circumstance, this paper also debates that state interventions may bring both advantages and disadvantages to the poor, such as agricultural modernization policy and saving credits for husbandry. Moreover, their livelihood practices lack dynamism, complexity, and diversity compared to poor Vietnamese people, due to their tradition and language barriers. Compared with poor Vietnamese, Khmers seem to be more excluded, more vulnerable, and insecure in attempting to move out of their poverty.

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