Vietnam has thousands of "craft villages." Each one specialises in a particular craft: works of art, religious objects, textiles, basket-weaving, food processing, etc. In particular the capital, Hanoi, has more than 500 on its outskirts. Grouped into "clusters," these villages have modernised themselves and diversified since the country's economy opened up in the 1980s. However, the ancient systems of production are being undermined by the competition for real estate and labour driven by the globalisation of the markets and the metropolitanisation of the capital.
The rapid growth of industrial production in emerging market countries is affecting global stability. This new dimension is weakening traditional systems of production, which are hugely demanding in terms of labour. In Vietnam in particular, the IRD researchers and their Vietnamese partners are analysing the impact of globalised industry on the ancient systems of the "craft villages."
A traditional system that has modernised itself
The region around the capital, Hanoi, is known for these villages, where the tradition of craft-work is continued. More than 500 villages, specialising in the manufacture of works of art, religious objects, food, industrial, textiles, and basket-work products have evolved only a few kilometres away from the capital. Some of them have been there for more than a thousand years. In fact, in the densely-populated Red River delta craft work has always been associated with rice cultivation, because it employed great numbers of people at times other than the growing season.
Since the country's economy opened up in the 1980s, this production system has modernized itself and has grown in importance. Encouraged by the opening of the borders and the government's incentive policies, these villages have diversified and intensified their production, which is increasingly geared towards export. Grouped in "clusters" of the same activity, the craft villages bring together a concentration of several thousands of workers. Currently they provide employment for almost 20% of the rural population of working age, and these workers benefit from an income several times greater than that derived from agriculture.
The craft industry currently under threat
However, as revealed by the surveys conducted by geographers and economists between 2003 and 2013, there are many factors restraining their development. Firstly, there is competition from China and the Vietnamese formal sector, as well as the need to adapt to international production standards. The access to real estate is another fresh obstacle to the development of the village enterprises, since the metropolitanisation of the capital is increasing land pressures and speculation. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the craft workers to have access to agricultural land. This is of benefit to heavy industry, which is financed by capital from outside the country and supported by the government because of its image of modernity. However, despite providing employment on a large scale, this industry recruits on a temporary and discriminatory basis. Its work-force is composed essentially of young people and often uniquely of women, a cheap work-force recruited to perform repetitive tasks with little prospect of skills training. Offering an uncertain future by virtue of possible relocation, it does not permit a working class to put down roots in the host regions. Conversely, the advantage of the craft villages is that their workers are able to put down roots; they have succeeded in creating a class of village crafts persons who pass their skills and expertise on from one generation to another.
Therefore, the future of these production systems, which provide remunerative, stable employment, is under threat and they are facing the challenge posed by the globalisation of the markets and the metropolitanisation of the capital.
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