video program features two case studies on mainland
Southeast Asia: Laos: Isolated Heart and
Vietnam: Fertile Dreams.
and Vietnam are countries attempting to open their borders
to the world after years of isolation due to civil war,
political unrest, and physical geographic barriers.
first case study, Laos: Isolated Heart,
shows how physical geographic barriers such as the Mekong
River and the mountains that cover seventy percent of
this traditionally poor country have led to years of
isolation for Laos. Political unrest and military conflict
in Southeast Asia during the latter half of the twentieth
century has also limited access. Landlocked by five
other countries, Laos has no sea access and must rely
on ground and air travel to interact with other countries.
results of this isolation can be seen in Laos' agrarian
economy. With little economic development in its cities,
most of the population lives in small villages. Even
the capital, Vientiane (Viangchan), has a population
of fewer than half a million people. With the opening
of the Friendship Bridge over the 1,100-mile Mekong
River, overland access to Thailand became available
for the first time. Other road linkages are planned
to connect Laos to China and Vietnamese ports. Developers
hope to exploit the country's vast hydroelectric power-generating
potential to serve markets in Thailand and eventually
within Laos itself.
to this program include discussion and critique of dam
building and the sale of hydroelectricity as a means
of develolpment. Commentary by Dr. Coleen Fox explores
the effect of development on the population at large
and raises the question of future sustainable development.
second case study, Vietnam: Fertile Dreams,
focuses on the agrarian sector of the Vietnamese economy,
specifically the transformation of rice production in
the Mekong Delta. In the last twenty years, the Vietnamese
government has engineered a remarkable agrarian reform.
Improved management of the water from the sediment-rich
Mekong River for irrigation, combined with a move away
from collective farming to contract farming, have made
Vietnam the second largest rice exporter in the world.
Farmers contract land for a period of twenty years,
producing up to three crops per year, and are provided
with short-term loans to cover their overhead by the
government-run Vietnam Bank for Agriculture. Agricultural
reform has also encouraged the success of another lucrative
crop: coffee. Vietnam is now second only to Brazil in
production of coffee.
addition to irrigation, the waters of the Mekong Delta
also provide convenient transportation, allowing crops
to be brought to mills and markets quickly and inexpensively.
The renewed economic vitality in the Mekong Delta is
echoed in the rest of southern Vietnam. Foreign firms
are reopening branch offices in Ho Chi Minh City, known
as Saigon to most of its estimated five million residents.
The open door policy, implemented in 1986, is reviving
the manufacturing and industrial sectors. But the key
to the Vietnamese economy remains the rice production
process, which depends on the complex interaction of
water resource management, transportation, finance,
and organization at both the household and village levels.
to this case study include discussion of the growth
of the coffee industry and expanding opportunities in
Ho Chi Minh City, with commentary by Dr. Amrita Daniere.
Physical Geography and Economic Development
Shift from Collective to Commercial Agriculture
of Urban Centers