How are rural households in Viet Nam doing?

Viet Nam has seen major economic shifts which started in the 1980s and continue today. Many strides have been made as the country goes through structural transformation, not least a significant reduction in poverty. Tracking progress, however, relies on the continued availability of high-quality data. 

One important benchmark to gauge the wellbeing of households in the Vietnamese context is the Vietnam Access to Resources Household Survey (VARHS). First piloted in 2002, VARHS is from 2006 onwards a unique panel survey, and the only to deal with, in a continuing way, a series of issues touching rural life in Viet Nam, such as land fragmentation.

Following the same rural households over time allows researchers and policy makers to understand how they are doing and what has changed. This is the topic of the new book, Growth, Structural Transformation, and Rural Change in Viet Nam, freely available in English and in Vietnamese. It draws on 2006-14 VARHS data to explore the changing life and work of rural families across the country.

The living conditions of rural households have improved

CIEM and UNU-WIDER held a policy seminar in Hanoi on 4 May to share key findings and implications outlined in the book with policy makers, researchers, and students of development. CIEM President Nguyen Dinh Cung opened the event, emphasizing the importance of the long-standing collaboration that has given rise to the research.

In his review of key findings, UNU-WIDER Director Finn Tarp confirmed that the living conditions of rural households in Viet Nam have improved in absolute terms. There is no question, he said, that aggregate growth is underway and the reductions made to poverty are very encouraging. Findings, nevertheless, suggest that more needs to be done to ensure that no groups are left behind. Policy innovation should help ensure vulnerable groups — such as female-headed households and minorities — also benefit from growth.

It was also announced at the event that the data covering 2006-14 used in the new book is available for replication.

Informing policy and making an impact

VARHS is collected from the same rural households every two years. In practice this means that surveyors go regularly into the 12 provinces that are part of the ongoing study to capture data. This process requires strong and long-term commitment on behalf of all partners to ensure that high-quality panel data continues to be collected and analysed to inform policy recommendations.

While much attention has been given to the 2006-14 period through the new book, consultation with policy makers and other experts on preliminary 2016 findings was the focus of the second event at CIEM in Hanoi. Researchers presented preliminary results from the 2016 VARHS data, drawing attention to what progress has been made since the previous round and what challenges still remain.

While the final report is still in progress, the event gave Vietnamese policy makers the chance to discuss results and potential implications. For example, what kinds of reforms are possible currently and in the future? What does it mean when education and training are identified as areas needing attention? This kind of dialogue allows researchers to learn more about the concerns of policy makers, while also starting talks on the kinds of policy changes that could be made to achieve real impact. It also is an opportunity to confirm what other areas would benefit from research attention. For instance, ILSSA President Dao Quang Vinh called for further research on credit access and how to promote non-farming activity.

In concluding, Finn Tarp made note of the importance of such discussions and underlined that researchers will closely consider the comments made while finalizing the VARHS 2016 report.

Importance of long-term partnership

Partnership and long-term collaboration have been at the heart of the project that brought the new book to fruition. VARHS has only been possible through the recognition of the importance of data and commitment to data collection. In addition to CIEM and UNU-WIDER, playing vital roles have been the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs (ILSSA), the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (CAP-IPSARD), and the Development Economics Research Group (DERG) of the University of Copenhagen.

For more information on structural transformation and inclusive growth in Viet Nam, visit the project page

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.