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Workshop on Resource Governance and Agricultural Restructuring in the Context of Inter-regional Linkages in the Mekong River Delta, Can Tho, Viet Nam

15 January 2016

The workshop was jointly organized by LMPPI and the South-west Steering Committee (SWSC). With more than 50 participants from various government departments and 6 research institutes throughout the Mekong River Delta (MRD), the workshop provided local government officials, academics, and other stakeholders with an overview of the role and interrelation between regional linkages and effective resource governance, agricultural restructuring and sustainable development in the context of climate change.

Participants who attended the one-day workshop discussed the structure of water governance in Viet Nam and issues related to inter-provincial water regulations, intra-provincial water supplies and uses, upstream hydropower dam development and impacts of climate change. Current trends in land use were examined; and alternative development scenarios for the MRD developed in the joint Viet Nam/Netherlands study were reviewed. The agricultural restructuring program section presented arguments supporting a high-value sustainable agriculture by building value chains for rice, sea foods, and fruits for domestic markets and exports while maintaining the viability and compatibility of each eco-region with expected climate change and sea level rise. The issue of institutional fragmentation was addressed from a legal perspective. The importance of fostering stronger regional linkages was examined by drawing on examples from other countries.

The workshop concluded with group discussions in which local participants shared their experience and concerns about the challenges of reshaping the development strategy in each province and for the MRD as a whole.

The discussion revealed that weak regional linkages and fragmented institutions have reduced Viet Nam’s potential for economic development. The problems arise in many development projects from building infrastructure, providing public services, resource governance, environmental protection, disaster and risk management, market regulation, restructuring rural production and deepening value chains. The Delta lacks a regional oversight mechanism to ensure the compatibility of provincial projects to the development of the region as a whole. Examples which emerged in the workshop highlight the many weaknesses of services for local farmers, such as extension, veterinary services, seeds, pesticides, machineries, and markets. Furthermore, regional coordination to construct long lasting infrastructure, such as river and sea dykes to expand crop production and protect property from flooding has been weak. It has led to wasteful spending while yielding only limited benefits.

One of the main causes is institutional fragmentation. There is no government mechanism within the MRD to oversee regional investment and use of public infrastructure, services, and production. The administrative divisions that separate the Delta into 13 provinces prevents effective coordination on public investment and governance among provinces that share common resources and development objectives.

Given the complex ecological structure of the MRD with its three separate ecosystems - the saline, the fresh water, and the flooded region - regional cooperation in promoting development is essential. At present, the necessary degree of cooperation is not being achieved by the decentralization process in Viet Nam.  This process gives greater autonomy in decision making on public investment and governance of local issues such as resource utilization and the fiscal budget to individual provinces. So far, it has only added another layer of complexity to the institutional fragmentation.

The workshop concluded with many critical questions that provide a foundation for further research and discussion on creating effective regional linkages, enhancing resource governance, and promoting sustainable development in the MRD.