Land is collectively owned by the people of Vietnam and managed for them by the Government. Land users typically obtain a land use rights certificate. Possession of a land use right certificate allows one to not only use the land, but also exchange, sell, lease, mortgage, inherit, and give the land as a gift.
The land price, however, is regulated by the State. A huge problem is that compensation must be based on market price but does not have to equal it. For foreign investors, land is generally obtained under a lease. While this arrangement of land rights normally works quite well, the Government has the right to take back land for other public purposes and not always adequately compensates the existing land user - a practice referred to as “land grabbing”.
From 2001 to 2010, for example, the Government reallocated 0.9 million hectares of agricultural land to land for residential use, commercial non-agricultural establishments use, public works and other non-agricultural purposes. Additionally, the Government converted 5.4 million hectares of unused land into land for various purposes. In relation to gender equity, while women make up 60% of the agricultural labour force, only 9% of farm owners are women.
Conflicts arise when the Government reallocates land for the purposes of economic development, and the land use rights are transferred from the individual (often a poor farmer) to private entrepreneurs and other commercial parties, to develop export-processing zones, industrial zones, economic zones, and hi-tech zones.
A recent analysis of the drivers of land degradation in Southeast Vietnam found that the main drivers are climate change and population density, while the main pressures are poor land use management and land use/land cover change. Satellite imagery showed agricultural land use rose from 31% to 50%, mostly at the expense of forests, from 1990 to 2019. Farmers have adapted to the changing climate by investing in the irrigation of rice and dragon fruit, and by selecting well adapted rainfed crops.
Key policies and governance approach
Land was not formally nationalized until the 1980 Constitution, and the first socialist Land Law in Vietnam was not passed until 1988. The second Land Law was passed in 1993 — a fuller version that expanded upon the 1988 law. Since then, the 1993 Land Law has been amended three times: in 1998, 2001, and 2003 and is currently controlled by the amended Land Law 2013 and a Law amending and supplementing a number of articles of 37 Laws related to planning in 2018. Several other supporting decrees and circulars have been promulgated. In addition, the Law on Housing, National Strategy on Housing Development until 2020 and Vision to 2030, and the Law on Urban Planning and NTP on New Rural Development (2010-2020) are important policies governing urban land issues.
Climate smart agriculture has been a key approach to the issue of climate change impacts on land use. To date, 61 climate smart rice production and sustainable shrimp farming models have been implemented, which benefit around 58,000 people. Alternate wet and drying techniques for rice production have been scaled up to 35,000 hectares.
In Binh Thuan Province, the responses to climate change induced land degradation include (i) sand dune stabilization; (ii) small dams; (iii) forest plantations with coastal species like Casuarina spp.; (iv) introduction of drought tolerant tree crops; and (v) a shift to cassava and cashew crops. Forest cover in this province declined by 32% between 1990–2019.
Successes and Remaining Challenges
The new Land Law 2013 has extended land use rights for agricultural and forestry land to 50 years. Additionally, the new law contains more limitations on the government acquiring land for the purposes of economic development. Now when private investors want to seize land for a development, they have two options: they must either negotiate directly at the local level or go through the national assembly or the Prime Minister if they want to enact the powers of eminent domain. Also, compensation must be paid before the land is cleared, and the new law contains improved provisions for land dispute resolution. While not perfect, the new administrative arrangements are a clear improvement.
Initiatives and Development Plans
The World Bank funded the US$100 million Vietnam Land Administration Project from 2000-2015, which completed primary land registration in 9 provinces and upgraded the infrastructure for land registration offices.
A Climate and Development Knowledge Network project “Land use policy optimization: integrating global to local approaches to enhance land use planning capacity and governance in Vietnam” combined data from global economic and biophysical models with detailed Vietnamese land use and spatial data, to create a Toolbox to enable policymakers and other stakeholders to visualise the outcomes of various long-term scenarios with a focus on land use change in Vietnam.
The Toolbox provided a coherent and integrative picture of possible economic and land use development paths, and the impact of various land use influencing policies. The project supported Vietnam’s implementation of programmes and policies on, inter alia, REDD+, climate smart agriculture, and rural development and employment. It has also provided a detailed case study of the “Land 2050 Initiative”, an international collaborative effort that brings together decision-makers, scientists, experts, and agenda setters to understand competing demands on land and stimulate the linking of policy and knowledge. The extent to which the results of this project have been mainstreamed into national and local land use plans is not known.
Goals and Ambitions
Vietnam joined the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and issued a National Action Plan to Combat Desertification in 2006. Land Desertification Neutrality plans under this Convention include (i) water efficiency for 820,000 ha; (ii) 1,515,000 ha of forest protection, restoration, and afforestation with domestic resources; and (iii) 2,450,000 ha of forest protection with international support. According to the National Master Plan of Special Use Forest System, the protected area system will be expanded to cover 2.4 million hectares or 176 protected areas. In addition, 16 MPAs and 45 inland water conservation areas (including special-use forests) have been included in the master plan.
- To reduce land degradation, land management systems need to be implemented on sloping land. This requires a spatially coordinated approach across districts and provinces to optimize different land uses and adopt a system similar to payments for ecosystem services (PES).
- It is also important to coordinate technical services to diversify land use across farms and landscapes. In Ca Mau Province, local policymakers have identified the environmental and commercial benefits of land use diversification through the concept of "organic coasts" that sustain shrimp and mangrove farming with fewer inputs. A similar approach could be adopted in other areas.
- It is needed to amend land policies as soon as possible to promote the efficient use of land resources and overcome the loss of farmland, land degradation, impoverishment, and desertification due to changes in use.
- Strengthen the protection of the land environment, natural wetlands, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and certain other natural ecosystems, addressing environmental pollution in craft villages and remediating land contaminated with chemical residues.
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 Hansen, Kaitlin (2013). "Land Law, Land Rights, and Land Reform in Vietnam: A Deeper Look into “Land Grabbing” for Public and Private Development". Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 1722. https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/isp_collection/1722
 VIET NAM’S VOLUNTARY NATIONAL REVIEW ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (2018). Available: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19967VNR_of_Viet_Nam.pdf
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