Vietnamese Agricultural Investment
Foreign direct investment in the Mekong region is growing, with investors including foreign states, state-owned enterprises, regional companies and multinational corporations. Vietnam itself is an important investor in the Mekong region. According to data from the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar rank first, second and eighth respectively as destinations for Vietnamese overseas investment. Laos and Cambodia alone account for a total of 430 Vietnamese projects, or 46% of the worldwide total, with investment capital of over $7 billion and mining, agriculture and forestry as the leading sectors.
Cross-border investments have the potential to bring economic benefits to all stakeholders involved. In practice, however, local residents and communities have often been harmed by projects that expropriate land or cause environmental damage. Local communities, for example, are very vulnerable to displacement as a result of large-scale land development projects. At the same time, some investing countries and companies are starting to realise that there can be negative effects on the investing country’s reputation from investment projects that harm local communities.
Reducing negative impacts and respecting land rights
In 2015-16, Oxfam in Vietnam is implementing an initial one-year project to conduct research and advocacy on Vietnamese cross-border agricultural investments in Laos and Cambodia, focusing on major crops such as rubber, coffee and sugar cane. The overall goal of the project is to reduce any negative social and environmental impact of these investments and to make sure that the land rights of women, men and local communities are respected.
The project is focused on achieving two particular outcomes. First of all, it aims to increase civil society engagement in monitoring Vietnamese regional agricultural investments. Secondly, it works to ensure that Vietnamese investors are accountable to national laws in Vietnam and in the destination countries, as well as to regional and international standards of good practices in agricultural investment.
This is done by mapping agricultural investments in the region, conducting research on the impact of a number of these investments, developing guidelines on responsible regional agricultural investments and advocating for the implementation of the guidelines.
The need for a broad-based coalition
The project is grounded in Oxfam’s overall belief that those whose land rights are most insecure and whose livelihoods are most at risk need to be able to play an active role in land policies. Only by consulting women, smallholder farmers and other vulnerable communities and giving them opportunities to influence land governance it is possible to achieve an equitable land policy.
In addition, Oxfam believes that broad-based coalitions of government, civil society and business actors are necessary to bring about improved land governance, and is engaging all three groups in this project. Civil society groups, for example, can play an important role in conducting grassroots research, organising information-sharing events and attracting media attention on investment practices.
Through constructive relationships with key businesses and investors, Oxfam will push for increased transparency around land investments, strengthened standards and a drive for more responsible policies and practices on land rights. This will help to ensure that vulnerable groups also benefit from agricultural investments.
Oxfam is working closely with two partners who have expressed a specific interest in cross-border issues, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and PanNature, a local NGO working on environmental issues, as well as other business associations and government agencies.
Project: Vietnamese Agricultural Investment in the Mekong Sub-Region
Location: Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
Time frame: 2015-2017
Funding: Oxfam core funding
 Data as of 19 May 2015 by the Ministry of Planning and Investment