1. Viet Nam is, by no means, facing a shortage of food or on the brink of a food security crisis. Agricultural production is very good and Viet Nam is a net exporter of rice and many other commodities. Rice prices rose sharply in late 2007, peaked in June 2008, dropped thereafter but remain higher than in previous years. The same has happened with other important food items in the consumption basket of the typical Vietnamese family, including pork, chicken, wheat, maize and eggs, among other food items.
2. The subsequent reduction in the purchasing power of many Vietnamese households, especially poorer ones, presents a substantial risk that households that had risen above the poverty line will fall back below it, as well as an important challenge to ensuring food security in Vietnam and the appropriate level of nutritional intakes by the Vietnamese people.
3. In this context, poorer women and children are particularly at risk since higher food prices can worsen their already precarious nutrition status. There is also a regional dimension to these concerns, with patterns of vulnerability often overlapping in certain regions which are characterized by high poverty rates, poor nutrition, and which are most affected by natural disasters and resulting crop failure. These regions have relatively high concentrations of ethnic minority populations.
4. In addition to the immediate nutritional impact posed by higher levels of food prices, the pressure for poor households to increase earnings also impacts on breastfeeding, child care, child labour, school attendance and out of pocket health expenditure.
5. Adding to these more immediate concerns over the impact of high food prices on levels of vulnerability and food security, it is important to note that Viet Nam is regularly afflicted by 6-7 natural disasters (typhoons and floods) annually, which destroy crops and food resources, as well as seeds, fertilizers and other resources in vulnerable areas. These climatic events, and their impact on food production in Vietnam, are likely to gain intensity with the advent of global warming and the specific threats that climate change poses for Vietnam's rural economy in the mid to long term.
6. The rapid pace that economic development has taken in Vietnam in the last decade and the challenges that the country faces as it enters middle-income status is starting to reveal a new set of tests and structural constraints in the Vietnamese rural economy. These relate to the growing competition that exists for scarce land resources, the existence of bottlenecks in agricultural marketing and distribution systems, and the trade offs that the Vietnamese agricultural sector faces between producing food or high-value added export crops.
7. Altogether, these concerns raise the need to start placing food security and vulnerability at the top of the Vietnamese policy debate, and the necessity of taking a more strategic policy approach to these concerns.
8. In the light of this situation, the following policy response options are suggested:
- Develop evidence-based policies for sustainable food production, maintenance of reserve stocks, distribution and contingency plans for food security and disaster risk reduction based on national information and mapping systems, including nutritional sentinel surveillance, food security and early warning, and market information systems.
- Strengthen information systems and enhance capacity for data production, management and dissemination. An area of priority is the need to bring together data in a coherent, multi-sectoral analysis linking potential causal factors with impact, particularly on the vulnerable.
- Strengthen existing safety nets and social assistance policies for vulnerable groups and the National Target Programme on Poverty Reduction, and assess the feasibility of widening and deepening their coverage.
- Examine the options to expand and intensify existing nutrition programmes and interventions especially those targeted at vulnerable groups such as pregnant and lactating women and children under-5.
- Review relevant policies in order to ensure that issues related to food security, vulnerability and protection mechanisms are appropriately reflected and incorporated to long-term strategic planning and policy thinking.