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Precarious Paddies: The Uncertain, Unstable, and Insecure Lives of Rice Farmers in the Mekong Delta


Coclanis, Peter A. & Stewart, Mart A. (2011). Precarious Paddies: The Uncertain, Unstable, and Insecure Lives of Rice Farmers in the Mekong Delta.. Stewart, Mart A. & Coclanis, Peter A. (Eds.) (pp. 103-114). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.


In recent decades, the concept “precarious work” has gained great currency in the literature of the social sciences. Generally speaking, “precarious work” is defined as work that is uncertain, unstable, and insecure, wherein the preponderance of risks is borne by workers rather than by employers or government. Up until now, the concept has almost always been used with reference to wageworkers employed, whether formally or informally, in the manufacturing or service sectors. In this chapter, we broaden this valuable concept by extending it to the agricultural sector and by including various types of “insecure” agriculturalists – whether wage laborers, tenants, or owner operators – in its embrace. More specifically, we apply the concept to farmers and farming in the Mekong Delta. Rice farming in the Mekong Delta has never been easy, seldom been secure, and never been risk-free. Year-to-year fluctuations in weather conditions alone are enough to render farm life in the region so. Over the past two decades, though, uncertainty, instability, and insecurity have risen for many Delta farmers as a result of market reforms in Vietnam beginning in 1986, the vagaries of world commodity prices, changes in health care, disability, and pension schemes in the country, a variety of environmental changes associated with the modernization of rice agriculture and the increase of poorly monitored industry, and now, the threat of significant, if not drastic climate change, which has the potential to increase uncertainty, instability, and insecurity exponentially. We have used a variety of sources, including field investigations, to demonstrate the relevance of the “precarious work” concept to the Mekong Delta’s rice cultivators.


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Advances in Global Change Research


Coclanis, Peter A.
Stewart, Mart A.