Resource access and livelihood resilience in Tam Giang Lagoon, Vietnam

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Ta, Thi Thanh Huong
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The local livelihood systems of Tam Giang Lagoon, Central Vietnam have shifted since the policy changes of 1986. Aquaculture has replaced capture fishing as the most important livelihood activity in the lagoon. Aquaculture is governed by both customary and legal access rights. The move from a centrally-planned (collectivization) economy to a market-oriented economy in conjunction with the development of the aquaculture sector has had significant impacts. This change has reduced the available lagoon areas for mobile-gear fishers, polarized different user-groups, and raised the issue of resource access inequity. The overarching objective of this thesis is to understand the complexity and influence of property rights on local livelihood systems; specifically: (1) to examine changes in resource access and various types of resource use in the lagoon; (2) to analyse the effects of aquaculture and changes in resource access on local livelihood systems; and (3) to assess the resilience of livelihood systems and identify the essential elements that contribute to resilience in livelihood systems. Qualitative and quantitative research methods were used for data collection. Sixty-five semi-structured interviews were conducted and fourteen households were selected for an additional in-depth livelihood analysis. Focus group discussions were one of the most important methods used for data collection. Fifteen formal focus groups and several informal discussions were organized. Both types of focus groups were used in conjunction with a number of participatory methods, such as seasonal calendar, participatory mapping, and well-being ranking. The field work was conducted over twenty-nine months between December, 2005 and April, 2008. The research examined the evolution of property rights and the complexity of resource access in Thuy Dien village. The research investigated seven types of resource use which are associated with “bundles of rights” and discussed the dynamics of property rights governed by both laws and customs. De jure and de facto rights were classified in different time periods by using Schlager and Ostrom’s framework. By applying a sustainable livelihood framework, the research presented overview of livelihood systems and discussed the influence of property rights on household livelihoods. Households in the village were classified into four groups: (1) earth pond, (2) net-enclosure; (3) mobile fishing; and (4) non-fishing households. Attention was paid to the disparity between these household types in term of livelihood strategies and opportunities for livelihood development. The research applied a resilience approach to the analysis of the local livelihood systems. Resilience is an inherent attribute of sustainable livelihood systems because it implies the flexibility and availability of options. If resilience is lost, livelihood systems may cross a threshold and shift to a different regime or alternative equilibrium. In Tam Giang Lagoon, a shift to a different regime seemed to have occurred over the last two decades.
property rights, livelihoods, resilience, lagoon, Vietnam, transformation, fishery, coastal commons