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When water management policies derail livelihood aspirations: farmers’ agency in everyday politics in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta

Updated: Apr 5

A new RESEARCH ARTICLE by Dr. Trần Anh Thông, Senior Researcher at HAPRI.

The research article by Tran Anh Thong provides a comprehensive analysis of water management and livelihood sustainability in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta, with a specific focus on the Ba Lai sluice scheme. This study sheds light on the intricate relationship between government-led infrastructure projects and the traditional livelihood practices of coastal communities, particularly shrimp farmers. By examining the dynamics of power at play in this context, the research underscores the challenges faced by local residents in navigating the impacts of large-scale development initiatives on their way of life.

The map of Ben Tre Province and the study areas: Thanh Tri and Thanh phuoc communes (in red shades) in Binh Dai District

One of the key insights from the study is the agency exercised by shrimp farmers in the face of government policies that directly affect their livelihoods. Through everyday political actions and strategies, these farmers engage in a form of resistance to contest the top-down decisions that threaten their economic activities and social well-being. This resistance highlights the importance of understanding the nuanced ways in which local communities negotiate their interests within broader frameworks of governance and development planning.

The research also draws attention to the complexities of water-livelihood interactions in coastal areas, where competing demands for water resources often lead to conflicts and tensions among different stakeholder groups. In the case of the Ba Lai sluice scheme, the need for water regulation for agricultural purposes clashes with the ecological concerns of maintaining a sustainable environment for diverse aquatic species. This conflict underscores the need for integrated and participatory approaches to water management that take into account the diverse needs and perspectives of all stakeholders involved.

By emphasizing the role of everyday politics in shaping water-livelihood contestations, the study highlights the resilience and resourcefulness of local communities in adapting to changing environmental and policy conditions. The findings underscore the importance of recognizing and supporting the agency of marginalized groups, such as shrimp farmers, in decision-making processes related to water governance and infrastructure development. In doing so, more equitable and sustainable solutions can be achieved that benefit both the environment and the livelihoods of coastal residents.

The Ba lai sluice scheme amidst water-livelihood contestations.

In conclusion, the research by Tran Anh Thong underscores the significance of inclusive governance structures in addressing the complex challenges of water management and livelihood sustainability in coastal deltas. By fostering dialogue, participation, and collaboration among diverse stakeholders, policymakers can work towards solutions that balance the needs of different groups while promoting environmental conservation and social equity. This study serves as a valuable contribution to the ongoing discourse on sustainable development in coastal areas, emphasizing the importance of local agency and community engagement in shaping more resilient and adaptive water management practices.



Tran, T. A., & Pittock, J. (2024), "When water policies derail livelihood aspirations: Farmers’ agency in everyday politics in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta", "Environmental Sociology", pp. 1-12, DOI: 10.1080/23251042.2024.2323601

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