COVID-19 Op-ed

Realising Rice and Rights: The Role of Civil Society in Realising the Right to Food in Vietnam during the Covid-19

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Tania Nguyen
Student, Asia Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

On 22 January 2020, the very first two-cases of the Covid-19 were confirmed in Vietnam. At the time of this writing, there were 265 infected people in the country (Worldometer, 2020). Like many other neighbors, Vietnam has announced a mandate of a two-week-lockdown from 01 April, which is supposed to extend to 30 April to slow the outbreak (VOA News, 2020). This national isolation ordered nearly 100 million people go out merely for food and medical needs, threatens the livelihood of thousands of impoverished and homeless people who make daily end meet. While the Vietnamese government, due to the limitation of human and economic resources, has not assured the right to food of all those vulnerable, civil society organizations and philanthropic individuals rose to become an effective actor in assisting the government in the fight of Coronavirus.

The Vietnamese government had considered for a VND 62 trillion (US$2.6 billion) relief package to help those most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic that has waged devastation on the economy during three months starting April through June (Vietnam News, 2020). According to this bill, poor households in which bread-winners have to temporarily stop going out for work as part of the government’s stay-at-home order and social distancing measures, will receive VND 250 thousand (US$10.8) each month. There are about 2,244,000 households fall under this category. Freelancers such as vendors, dustmen, stevedores, motorbike-taxi drivers, cyclo drivers, lottery ticket sales, etc. are also people who are eligible for the package, will be supported VND 1 million (US$ 43.6) per person a month. However, as a matter of practice, even though this bill has been adopted on 09 April, it is still at a policy level. It has not yet been put into actual implementation.

To help those vulnerable during the pandemic of Covid-19 in Vietnam, many organizations, and private actors have reacted immediately by donating food, rice, noodles, instant porridge, medical mask, and other necessities. Along the streets in Ho Chi Minh city as well as in Hanoi and nearby provinces, Vietnam, we quickly find donations gifts with handmade signs written “Feel free to take one package if you are in need, otherwise please let the chance for other people” in front of many houses and stores. Among those donors, Hoang Tuan Anh, an entrepreneur in Ho Chi Minh City who is well-known for creatively installing a homemade ATM that, rather than cash, provides 24/7 access to the grain to those in need during the Covid-19 pandemic (Vietnam Insider, 2020). This machine helps reduce crowding so that the risk of coronavirus transmission will be prevented. The “rice ATM” project has been so successful that many individuals and organizations have been inspired to offer their support. Some even drove their truck with tons of rice to the place. Hundreds of “rice ATM” more have been planning in other districts and provinces under the permission of the local government.

These examples are powerful demonstrations of the importance of civil society in Vietnam. Therefore, those who would love to involve in the civil society and charity services should be encouraged by the government, rather than being put in difficult situations. It is added that in Vietnam, if someone wants to do a charity, the person has to ask for permission from the local government, otherwise, that one will be in trouble (RFA, 2020).  Tuan Lam Bui, a citizen in Danang, central of Vietnam, told RFA that he was invited to his area police station and was investigated for three hours over there. He was accused of violating the government’s social distancing order by gathering and donating local people food. Another case, members of Liberal Publishing House, an independent publisher in Vietnam, have been asking many questions by the governors such as “Who are you? What are your motivations and purpose of donating things like this? Why do not you send them all to the local People Committee, and we will help you to deliver, but do it by yourself?” while they were distributing food in Hanoi.

During the Covid-19 crisis in Vietnam, civil society actively performs its undeniable contribution, which the Vietnamese government tries to undermine over the past years in its attempt to set off the leadership of the Communist Party. It has been playing crucial roles besides the state and the private sectors as the facilitators, innovators, conveners as well as service providers, and advocates in resolving social challenges as well as governance issues. In particular, civil society has joined the fight against the Coronavirus and assisted the government in protecting the right to food of those vulnerable people caused by the outbreak. It is not the time for political calculation, but harmonious cooperation. The Vietnamese government at all levels should create favorable conditions for voluntary organizations and individuals so that more and more victims of the invisible enemy are protected, and their right to food is at least fulfilled.


Daisy Nguyen, 2020. Meaningful “Rice ATM” project launched successfully during Covid-19. Vietnam Insider, [online] 10 April. Available at:< > [Accessed 12 April 2020].

RFA, 2020. Who are eligible to do charity in Vietnam during the pandemic?/ Ai được làm từ thiện trong mùa dịch tại Việt Nam? [online] 07 April. Available at: < > [Accessed 12 April 2020].

Vietnam News, 2020. Gov’t considering unprecedented US$2.6b support package for Vietnamese hit by COVID-19. Vietnam News, [online] 02 April. Available at: <  > [Accessed 12 April 2020].

VOA News, 2020. Vietnam Orders National Isolation After Initial Containment of Coronavirus. VOA News, [online] 31 March. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 April 2020].

Worldometer, 2020. Coronavirus cases in Vietnam. Worldometer, [online] 14 April. Available at: <  >[Accessed 14 April 2020].

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