'A new landlord'? Community, land conflict and State Forest Companies (SFCs) in Vietnam

Title'A new landlord'? Community, land conflict and State Forest Companies (SFCs) in Vietnam
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsXuan P, Mahanty S, Dressler WH
Secondary TitleForest Policy and Economics
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Key themesEnvironment, FDI, MigrationLabour

In much of Southeast Asia, the rise of rural land conflicts and struggles often parallels market expansion into frontiers, a collage of historical state interventions, negotiations over state authority and contested legitimacy. Scholarship on Vietnam has yielded important insights on the changes wrought by new commodity booms and hybrid forms of state engagement in markets. With the recent escalation of land conflict between Vietnam's State Forest Companies (SFCs) and farmers, this paper builds on past research to examine why this current wave of SFC–farmer conflict is occurring, and what it means for the relationships between SFCs, farming communities and the central state. Based on our analysis of two sites of intense conflict, we argue that changes to SFC governance, together with rapidly evolving commodity markets and livelihood pressures are bringing a new edge to land negotiations. Policy changes that aimed to improve the efficiency of Vietnam's state companies have transformed SFCs from state-run businesses into hybrid state-private entities that are required to sustain a profit. Yet SFCs' ongoing connection with the state ensures their continued control of valuable forestlands, and emboldens SFCs to flout state rules to monopolize land and engage local farmers in exploitative ‘tenancy’ contracts. For farmers, the SFC has changed from the local ‘face’ of the state, that heavily exploited timber, restricted local forest access and provided some local infrastructure and services, to a privileged market actor bent on profit. This situation has intensified with growing local demand for land to sustain livelihoods and to feed Chinese and global demand for cassava and softwood. While Vietnamese markets continue to reflect a strong state hand, we show that SFCs' hybrid identity as both a state and market actor poses new risks for the central state. When farmers openly challenge SFCs over land and reference colonial arrangements through the language of a ‘new landlord’, they question the legitimacy and role of the state in the face of new market pressures and opportunities.


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Journal Article