Large-Scale Land Concessions, Migration, and Land Use: The Paradox of Industrial Estates in the Red River Delta of Vietnam and Rubber Plantations of Northeast Cambodia

TitleLarge-Scale Land Concessions, Migration, and Land Use: The Paradox of Industrial Estates in the Red River Delta of Vietnam and Rubber Plantations of Northeast Cambodia
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsNghiem T, Kimkong H, Fox J, Hurni K, Baird I
Secondary TitleLand
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, FDI, MigrationLabour, Urban

This study investigated the implications of large-scale land concessions in the Red River Delta, Vietnam, and Northeast Cambodia with regard to urban and agricultural frontiers, agrarian transitions, migration, and places from which the migrant workers originated. Field interviews conducted near large-scale land concessions for industrial estates in the Red River Delta and rubber plantations in Northeast Cambodia suggest that these radically different concessions are paradoxically leading to similar reconfigurations of livelihoods, labor patterns, and landscapes despite basic differences in these forms of land use. Both the Red River Delta and Northeast Cambodia are frontier environments undergoing extensive agrarian change with migration to work in the large-scale land concessions leading to a shortage of farm labor that anticipates changes in farming practices and farm livelihoods. These population movements will lead to further land-use changes as governments invest in the infrastructure and services needed to support increased population density in the receiving areas. In addition, labor migrations associated with these investments affect land-use practices both at the site of the concession and the places from where the migrants originate.


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Cambodia, Vietnam

Document Type

Journal Article


Overall relevance: 

This article investigates the urbanization frontier associated with large-scale industrial estates and the agricultural frontier associated with rubber plantations. In Vietnam, farmers are cultivating more land with less labour as migrants seek work in and around cities – including on industrial estates. In Cambodia, investments in rubber plantations attract in-flow migration from lowland provinces and minority people lose land to economic land concessions. The study takes geographical approaches to the analysis, with reference to northeastern Cambodia and the Red River Delta in Vietnam. It employs semi-structured interviews with relevant actors in Vietnam, and in Cambodia it employs semi-structured interviews with rubber tappers and key informant interviews with managers of rubber plantations. The methods show different impacts of changes in livelihoods, labour patterns and migration associated with the decline of farming and land use changes.

Key Themes: 
  • FDI and land access: economic land concessions, contract farming, short term and long term renting - Economic land concessions in Cambodia have been granted on extensive areas to foreign and local investors, in northeastern Cambodia mostly for rubber plantations. Some ethnic communities lost their land to economic land concessions and the incoming migrants started to purchase land, influence local culture and social relations. The promotion of industrial estates in Vietnam echoes a global narrative where they provide a pathway for developing countries to accelerate national economic growth. The two provinces in the Red River Delta attract FDI from international industrial powers and local investments. The Vietnam provincial government plans to build 19 industrial parks by 2020 in Hong Yen province while Nam Dinh province is transforming from an agricultural to industrial economy.
  • Agricultural modernisation: key ideas and debates relevant to land tenure security - The farmers in Nam Dinh province of Vietnam have mechanized their land and harvesting because of a labour shortage and are likely the last generation to actively engage in farming. The farmers would prefer to grow high value cash crops instead of rice but are not allowed by zoning regulations. So they rent out land to for large-scale use by corporations. The promotion of rubber plantations in Cambodia parallels a global narrative that countries must abandon small-scale modes of agricultural production and modernize their agricultural sectors.
  • Agrarian change and land: Migration and labour - The industrial zone in Hong Yen provides jobs to 35,000 workers but about 72 percent of household farmers lost land to the industrial estate, farmers stopped farming and moved to work for the industrial park. 40% of those working in the Industrial Zone are migrants and send remittances to support their families. Agrarian change causes labour shortages, with fewer farmers and a population reduction in the plantation areas. In both provinces, there has been a transition from rice farming to commercial activities. In Cambodia, workers in the rubber plantations migrated from different provinces and could save enough to buy land. Young people in Cambodia are leaving their provinces to seek their fortunes domestically and abroad. Remittances lead to the intensification and modernization of agriculture, yet migration leads to a shortage of labour. The introduction of large-scale land concessions for industrial estates in the Red River Delta and rubber plantations in Northeast Cambodia are causing changes in livelihoods, labour patterns, and landscapes.
  • Urban land governance - Urban land governance in Vietnam affects land use changes, distorts social structure in the provinces, affects farming labour and agricultural productivity. In attracting migrants, urbanization increases remittances and diversifies job opportunities, yet could possibly affect social relations between local inhabitants and newcomers.
Research basis: 

The study is based on desk research, field data collection through interviews with farming households, workers in industrial estates in two provinces in Vietnam, rubber tappers in four provinces in Cambodia, employees of the industrial estates in Vietnam and three managers of rubber plantation companies in Cambodia. Major findings from the semi-structured interviews on key topics were recorded in an Excel spreadsheet for data analysis. Provinces in Cambodia were selected based on where the migrants originate. (Provided by Ngorn Chansovy)