New highway drives farmers into poverty
Compensation is 'not enough' for lost farming land
Farmers harvesting rice in Vinh Long province
ucanews.com reporters, Vinh Long City
March 16, 2012
The construction of a new highway from Ho Chi Minh City through the southern provinces of Long An, Tien Giang and Vinh Long, is eating up hectare after hectare of working paddy fields and leaving farmers with no home and no source of income. “It has provided us with rice and a livelihood for decades," says Bui Thanh Tuan, looking at his 2,000 sq m field which is currently under threat. "It's our most valuable possession. We simply could not live without this.” His neighbor Tuan faces the same bleak prospect. "My field was a legacy from my parents," he says. “I will have nothing to give as a legacy to my child." The government does give compensation for the land it commandeers, but the farmers say it is simply not enough. “I might get 200 million dong (US$10,000) in compensation, but for that amount I could not buy another field that would give me a living,” says Tuan. The same fate has befallen many farmers. Throughout the region, the total land taken for urban and industrial projects adds up to 270,000 hectares. In all but a handful of cases, the amount of compensation paid has prevented the smallholders from buying another plot and consigned them to a life of poverty. The projects have created some employment in the new industrial zones, but it is mainly in factories producing food or shoes and only women are hired. This leaves the farmers, who have no other skills, with very few options. Some have bought boats, some deliver goods, some sell sugarcane juice, some have rented even smaller plots and try to eke a living out of them. One of their greatest worries now is where they can bury their dead. They were traditionally laid to rest on their own farmland, but no new cemeteries have been opened.