Provincial Poverty Dynamics in Lao PDR: A Case Study of Savannakhet

Edo Andriesse, Anouxay Phommalath


Although the average poverty level in Lao PDR has declined substantially since the beginning of economic reforms in 1986, sub-national dynamics give rise to a discussion of the trends and issues that determine and sustain provincial poverty and the variegated processes of rural transition. It appears that migration to core areas does not always generate better living standards, as migration to Vientiane Capital and Vientiane Province also results in a relocation of poverty from peripheral to core areas. This article sheds light on these problems and discusses the implications for the spatial dimensions of poverty in core provinces located on emerging Greater Mekong Subregion corridors and peripheral provinces. A case study of Savannakhet, located along the East West Economic Corridor, shows how rural households cope with the pressures arising from increasing market forces and regionalization. Based on in-depth fieldwork in the village of Ban Gnang Pho Sy, the results indicate that a shift occurred among the rural poor, in which their livelihoods changed from being based purely on subsistence agriculture to being focused increasingly upon pluriactive (commercial) farming, livelihood diversification and labour migration to Thailand. Provinces located along emerging corridors experience a complex mosaic of impacts of integration due to fragmented ethnic-linguistic geographies and the varying relevance of pull versus push factors: imports versus exports, inward versus outward investments, and in- versus out-migration. In sum, rather than the neoliberal promise of a flatter socioeconomic landscape, the human geography of the Greater Mekong Subregion remains rough, due to politicization of foreign direct investments, complex land dealings and landlessness, migration patterns and rising inequality.

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