Eco-modernizing small en medium-sized agro-industries in Vietnam

Pham Hong Nhat

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Following ‘Doi Moi’ (Renovation), which started in 1986, the former centrally planned economy in Vietnam is shifting to an economy where production is linked to market demand and consumption. As a result, the nation has been enjoying an unprecedentedly fast economic growth, especially in recent years: 8.4% in 2005 and 8.17% in 2006. The economic renovation also brought an expansion of the private sector, which consists mainly of small- and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. The reform process has also positively influenced agriculture, which is an important sector of the national economy. These changes have resulted in a strong growth of Vietnamese SMEs, especially in the agro-food and related fields. Although recognized as a very important sector, the small- and medium-sized agro-industries, SMAIs have high environmental costs. Since a large number of SMAIs operate amidst residential neighbourhoods in urban areas, they not only contribute to urban pollution but also cause severe nuisance to the surrounding residents by discharging their untreated solid, liquid and gaseous emissions. Furthermore, the public has expressed concerns recently that the poor environmental performance of SMAIs may (in)directly influence the safety of food. During the last few years, the Government of Vietnam has worked hard to protect the environment and to mitigate adverse environmental impacts caused by fast economic development. But the current environmental management system, based on a solid command-and-control style, has not been able to cope with the situation. In an attempt to contribute to a sustainable development strategy for the country, this thesis aims to evaluate the current situation and to design approaches that would eco-modernise the existing small- and medium-sized agro-industries in Vietnam. As such, the main objective of the thesis is to answer three central research questions: (1) what are the current contributions of SMAIs to environmental problems in Vietnam?, (2) how can the environmental performance of Vietnamese SMAIs be improved?, and (3) what role can the relevant Vietnamese actors play in such environmental reform strategies? The ideas of the Ecological Modernisation Theory, EMT, were employed as the main theoretical framework for this research. These ideas help us to analyse how to deal with environmental issues which have increasingly become problematic as a result of the recent fast industrial and economic development. With an EMT framework, current available theories and techniques for environmental protection (at industries) were systematically analyzed. They include pollution control, pollution prevention/cleaner production and industrial ecology. Although these approaches were developed as an evolution towards solving the environmental consequences of industrial development, they all have both advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore, although the most recent approaches appear to be the most advanced ones, none of them have ever fully rejected the others. In fact, a combination of (most of) them, seems to be useful. A methodology was developed in this dissertation for analyzing and designing the eco-modernization of existing SMAIs, using the main principles of industrial ecology, IE. The methodology focuses on both technical aspects and institutional (re)arrangements and leads to a “closed material cycle model”. Regarding the technical side, the model consists of two levels: (1) the enterprise level and (2) the enterprise-expanded level; and it encompasses three components of environmental performance improvement: (1) the intra-enterprise measures, which consist of mainly source reduction and on-site recycling, (2) the intra-extra enterprise measures, which include mainly (off-site) recycling and/or (on-site) reuse, and (3) the further use of the remaining residues by other industries and/or entities/activities. Regarding the institutional aspects a network analysis – assessing the role of economic, policy and societal networks – was applied, relating designed environmental improvement options to actors configurations. The developed methodology was applied in three SMAI sub-sectors: animal slaughtering, tanning and seafood processing. A multiple case study strategy was employed for this research. After a general study of each of the sub-sectors, six case study enterprises were selected from each sub-sector for in-depth research. Furthermore, one case study from each studied sub-sector was selected for further in-depth research with empirical experiments on closing the material cycles. Moreover, actor networks that embed the case study companies were analyzed to identify their role in promoting the developed environmental options and models. As a result, shortcomings in implementing environmental reforms were identified. The identification of these weaknesses helped to make sound recommendations for institutional rearrangements of future systems leading towards successful eco-modernizing of the SMAIs. As a result of the empirical research the central research questions were answered. Firstly, it has become clear that the current environmental performance of the SMAI sector in Vietnam is poor. This poor performance not only contributes to the degradation of the environment but also (in)directly relates to the issues of food safety. Secondly, the application of an integrated methodology based on the principles of pollution prevention/cleaner production and especially industrial ecology proved to be successful in helping the SMAIs to improve their environmental performance by creating a “closed material cycle” model. Thirdly, through a network analysis, the role of the relevant actors in environmental reform was clarified. Most economic actors do not play an active and “positive” role towards facilitating the implementation of developed environmental improvement model, and the societal network actors are also quite passive. In addition, a number of shortcomings in the policy networks regarding the environmental reform were revealed. Although the role of branch associations was identified as crucial for environmental reform, these either do not exist (in the case of slaughtering industry) or they focus only on the economic interests of their members. Capacity strengthening – both at the individual and the organizational level – is urgently needed as part of a political modernization process, but this has to be coupled with raising environmental awareness and knowledge among the public in general. The empirical research within this study has proved that the idea of industrial ecology can be applied for improving environmental performance of the existing SMAIs by adding well designed options. In other words, industrial ecology fits not only new industrial establishments by carefully designing waste reuse, recycling or exchange, but can also fit existing (agro-)industrial units by (wisely) re-designing their waste flow for the purpose of recycling and/or reuse. Last but not least, recommendations for further research have been made. Firstly, from the point of view of sustainable production and consumption, research could be carried out to elaborate on the production-consumption chain for the SMAIs. This work would help to quantify the contribution and role of each actor in the chain. Furthermore, the applicability and extent of industrial ecology could further be studied for SMEs of other industrial sectors in Vietnam. Finally, comparative studies are recommended to be carried out on environmental reform of the same industrial sub-sectors in similar economic conditions but in different geographical, cultural and political-institutional settings. These studies could help to make the EMT more valuable throughout the developing world.  
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Mol, Arthur, Promotor
Award date17 Dec 2007
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789085048282
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2007


  • agribusiness
  • small businesses
  • pollution
  • environmental degradation
  • modernization
  • rehabilitation
  • sustainability
  • environmental protection
  • pollution control
  • slaughter
  • tanning
  • leather industry
  • seafoods
  • government policy
  • environmental policy
  • vietnam
  • medium sized businesses


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