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‘Black Cardamom is Forever’: ethnic minority livelihoods in the western Sino-Vietnamese borderlands

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In this podcast, the IOWC podcast team had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Slack, a PhD student studying under the McGill University Geography Department. Throughout the conversation, Patrick discusses his ongoing research (MA and PhD) into the role that black cardamom plays in upland, ethnic minority semi-subsistence livelihoods in the western Sino-Vietnamese borderlands. Black cardamom – a medicinal and culinary non-timber forest product – was previously touted as a sustainable rural development livelihood strategy. It provided reliable income to subsidize the lives of borderland farmers for decades, permitting stability, self-determination, and independence among farmers in Vietnam’s northern Lao Cai province.

However, over the past decade, the cultivation of black cardamom has been threatened by two major catalysts: 1) extreme weather events which have decimated harvests; and 2) the increasing regulations that centralized governments have been imposing on highland forests and cardamom cultivation within them.  Patrick explores both threats in this podcast. He goes into detail on how he became interested in the crop as a research topic, how ethnic minorities of northern Vietnam are treated by mainstream society, how regulations on the cultivation of black cardamom – also seen as the regulation of ethnically and culturally diverse behaviours – are impacting the ethnic minority populations subsisting off of the crop in the borderlands, as well as how gender roles, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic come into play when discussing the continuance of the crop throughout northern highland society. Patrick further explains his hopes for his upcoming PhD research, which will focus on both the Lao Cai province and the west-adjacent province of Lai Chau. The ethnographic study that Patrick intends to produce throughout his doctoral degree will be the first to explore how borderland ethnic minority farmers in upland northern Vietnam have navigated modernity and state interventionism over the past century.

Cropped photo via Brian Arthur Wikipedia Commons

This podcast was produced with the help of Renée Manderville (Project Manager, IOWC), Archisman Chaudhuri, and Philip Gooding (both postdoctoral fellows, IOWC, McGill).