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Increased development leaves many farms fallow
28 | 09 | 2007
For Quang Ngai Province’s Binh Son District, industrial development is a double-edged sword.

While the opening of new industrial zones in the district has brought more work and higher incomes for the local people, it has also led to large areas of cultivable land being left fallow, and commune authorities warn this could lead to high unemployment once the construction boom is over. Binh Tri Commune is the hardest hit, with the majority of its fields left unseeded.

"Most of the commune’s farmers are now working as employees in the Dung Quat Economic Zone. Fallow areas for the summer-autumn crop have reached 15ha, even though most of this land is in good condition," said Pham Ngoc Tho, President of the People’s Committee of Binh Tri Commune.

Binh Tri Commune currently has 15 operational industrial projects, and this year there has been a push to complete an oil refinery in the commune. The demand for unskilled labour is high, and workers’ salaries have grown significantly in the past year. A mason’s salary jumped from VND30,000 (US$1.8) a day last year to VND60,000 ($4) today. Guards, cooks and cleaners are also earning 30 to 50 per cent more than the previous year.

Nguyen Chinh, a resident of Phuoc Hoa Village has not cultivated his 4-pole rice field for a long time, deciding instead to work as a mason.

"Working as a mason for a month, I can earn as much as I do from an entire harvest of my rice field, and the work is easier. I’d rather fallow the rice field," Chinh said.

Meanwhile, many other farmers have taken bank loans to fill in their paddies so they can build shops and other businesses.

"This is a very serious problem, because when farmers fill in their fields, they also fill in canals and ditches, causing irrigation choke-points. This damages neighbouring fields, because they can’t get enough water and dry up," he said.

According to Tho, although the commune has fined 30 farming households for not planting their land, farmers in the commune continue to destroy their fields, even those that can still produce well.

The decision of many farmers to let their land fallow is also seriously affecting those who have chosen to continue planting.

"Young farmers have flocked to the industrial zone and there is no one left to repair the irrigation canals, so water supply is unstable," Tho said.

"Additionally, it is easier to water your field if every other field in the area is well-cultivated. At the moment the unplanted fields are intermixed with cultivated land, making it more difficult to irrigate the cultivated fields," he said.

Older farmers who are unable to find work in the industrial zones have no choice but to continue working on their land. However, productivity is low. This means that even those who want to remain on their land, no longer can, because with such low productivity the incomes are not enough to live on.

"Since factories were built in the commune, the fields have become dry when it’s sunny and flooded when it rains. I could not rely on cultivating my fields for a living anymore, so I filled them in and opened shops to earn money to feed my children," said Nguyen Phuc, a resident of Phuoc Hoai Village.

According to Phuc, each day some 5,000 workers and experts come to Binh Tri Commune, creating demand for restaurants, accommodation, and other services. One hundred and thirty households in the commune have opened guest houses, earning up to VND5 million a month, equal to the income from a 1ha rice field.

"Many other households who have opened restaurants and cafes or internet centres earn much more than when they were growing crops," said Phuc.

One positive result, Tho said, is that local people are no longer leaving the commune to find work, whereas in the past the figure was as high as 50 per cent. But the gradual burying-in of rice paddies worries Tho for another reason: "Construction projects in the commune will eventually finish, and then on-site labourers will no longer have work. The demand for other services will also decline. Then used-to-be farmers will have to return to their fields, which will have been degraded. What will they do then?" asked Tho.

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