Report From Việt Nam -- Part V

Apologies for the lack of posts for the past several days. I have been out of internet range. I will try to make it up over the next several days.

Here is some history of agricultural production in Việt Nam. My source is the book “Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present” by Ben Kiernan. Kiernan is a professor at Yale. The book was published in 2017.

When Ho Chi Minh’s communists gained control of the northern part of Việt Nam in the early 1950s, one of their first significant projects was a systematic “land reform” that included evicting the pre-existing landlords and collectivizing agriculture in the Stalinist model. From Kiernan (page 431):

Led by then-[Việt Nam Workers Party] secretary general Truong Chinh and backed by Ho Chi Minh from the start, [“land reform”] involved two major processes. The first comprised land reform proper, the redistribution to poor peasants of lands held by landlords, “rich peasants,” and even many middle peasants. . . . [T]he results [came] with a high level of violence. Landlords and rich peasants had not merely lost their lands. Thousands were killed, including some of those who formerly comprised 29 percent of the membership of village party committees.

Kiernan provides fewer details, but a similar process took place in the South both before and after the communist victory in the early 1970s. How did that land redistribution and agricultural collectivization work out? Kiernan describes the first post-war decade as a “struggle for self-sufficiency” (page 480). Our guides are more explicit, depicting their childhood as a time of everything rationed and never enough to eat. But after only a little over a decade of this, Việt Nam undertook major economic reforms. From Kiernan (page 480):

[A Decree from the Sixth Party Congress in 1986, as well as several follow-up ordinances from the Council of Ministers] ended all subsidies to state enterprises . . .; assigned farmers possession of their land on long-term renewable leases; replaced the contract system of state procurements with a land tax; and privatized the marketing of inputs and outputs. . . . Then, in July 1993, the National Assembly passed a new land law that ended the collective ownership of land and divided it among villagers, who received individual farm plots with twenty-year tenure that included the right to sell, exchange, lease, and bequeath the land to heirs or use it as collateral to raise bank loans.

Results? In almost no time Việt Nam went from starving to not only well fed, but a major exporter of agricultural commodities:

Rice production rose dramatically. From the previous national record of 17.5 million tons in 1984, the annual production of milled rice reached 27.4 million tons in 2013. . . . Việt Nam became one of the world’s three leading rice exporters, with shipments increasing from 100,000 tons in 1988 to 1.5 million tons in 1999 and 7.4 million tons in 2013.

And elsewhere in the economy:

[By 2011-2016, Việt Nam’s economy grew] at rising rates of 5.0-6.5 percent per year. The high foreign exchange income and international investment transformed the economy and, increasingly, individual lifestyles. Vietnamese high-technology exports, which the World Bank valued at zero U.S. dollars in 2004, earned $9 billion in 2011. As for the spread of consumer goods in Việt Nam, one indicator is the rapid increase in internet usage, from 121,000 Vietnamese users in 2000 to 23 million users in 2009.

Do any American college students actually learn about any of this in their course work? Probably, a tiny handful do.