Cultural understandings of development processes key to lifting ethnic minorities from poverty

May 19, 2014

Photo: UNDP Viet Nam/ Shutterstock

Ha Noi, 19 May 2014 – Today’s forum on how to further reduce poverty among ethnic minority people in Viet Nam highlighted the need to empower people and develop culturally-appropriate understandings of development processes.

As absolute poverty in Viet Nam is increasingly an ethnic minority phenomenon with one-in-two poor people from ethnic minority groups, representatives from the National Assembly, the Government, civil society and development partners gathered in Ha Noi to find ways to tackle this entrenched problem.

Mr Nguyen Danh Ut, Vice Chair of the National Assembly’s Ethnic Council, said the country’s poverty rate remained above 40 percent in communes participating in the 135 Programme at the end of 2012. Each year, one-third of households who have escaped poverty slip back into an impoverished state due to natural disasters and epidemics.

Mr Nguyen Danh Ut underlined several poverty reduction challenges for ethnic minority populated areas, including the increasing development level gap between most ethnic minority groups and the nation’s average, many poor households’ vulnerabilities to being left behind due to the lack of arable land or stable jobs and the increasing disparity in benefiting from the country’s achievements in cultural and economic areas, especially in accessing public services, capital, healthcare and social services.

“The National Assembly Supreme Oversight Mission on poverty reduction work in 2014 found an obvious overlap and duplication of content in poverty reduction policies for ethnic minority groups,” Mr Nguyen Danh Ut said. “Although there have been changes towards improving the quality of poverty reduction and switching to sustainable poverty reduction targets, the current poverty reduction policies are not able to resolve these fundamental challenges”.

Mr Son Phuoc Hoan, Vice Minister Committee of Ethnic Minority Affairs, said current poverty reduction policies posed questions about their appropriateness for the diverse cultural and traditional livelihood characteristics of ethnic minority groups.

“These will be significant barriers to achieving poverty reduction targets and the country’s development if we fail to find appropriate approaches to mobilize the active participation of people, to tap into the strength and resources of communities during the poverty reduction and development process in coming time.”

Mr Damien Cole, Ireland’s Ambassador to Viet Nam, told the forum that ethnic minority poverty reduction had been an important priority for the Irish Aid programme in Viet Nam since 2007.

“Government and development partners acknowledge that poverty reduction in Viet Nam has reached a point where a more disaggregated and nuanced approach is needed,” said Ambassador Damien Cole, who is also Chair of Ethnic Minority Poverty Working Group.

Ms Louise Chamberlain, UN Development Programme Country Director in Viet Nam, also touched on policy and practice responses to accelerate poverty reduction for ethnic minority people. She said policies and programmes should serve as enablers to the capacity of individuals and communities to overcome disadvantages. “Ethnic minorities should not been seen merely as targets of policy, but rather as agents of change, able to contribute to and participate in their own development, and that of Viet Nam at large,” she noted.

Ms Chamberlain also highlighted the need to embrace, and respect cultural diversity and develop culturally appropriate understandings of development processes. “Growing evidence shows that contextualization is needed if ethnic groups are to participate in and benefit from national economic development,” Ms Chamberlain said. “Cultural diversity needs to be recognized as a fundamental ingredient in inclusive development and must form part of any future efforts to change the legal framework governing Ethnic Minority development.”

The forum, titled Poverty reduction policies for ethnic minority and mountainous areas: the lessons learnt and direction for the 2015-2020 period, was co-chaired by the National Assembly’s Ethnic Council and the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, in collaboration with the Embassy of Ireland and the United Nations in Viet Nam. The forum’s discussions will provide direct inputs to the National Assembly’s oversight of poverty reduction policies and programmes, and the challenge of accelerating development in ethnic minority communities.

Contact information

Media contacts:
Nguyen Thi Nga, Project on Poverty Reduction Policies and Program, CEMA
Tel: (84-4) 39362226, email:
Nguyen Viet Lan, UN Communication Team,
Tel: (84-4) 38224383 x121, email:

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