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Cars, commerce and community in Vietnam

July 11, 2023

ASU researcher explores impact of cars on socialization, small business success in Ho Chi Minh City

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of Q&As highlighting Arizona State University researchers working around the world this summer. Read about a bioarcheologist in Cyprustool excavation in Africa, and conserving jaguars in Costa Rica.

On the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, millions of Vietnamese on motorbikes swerve in and around the narrow streets, hopping on and off for food and friends. 

Venders use speakers to be heard above the roar of the motorbikes in an attempt to draw customers into the competitive marketplace where 15 to 20 different soups, grilled eggs, bánh mì nóng (hot bread), bánh chưng (stuffed pork cake) and more are on the menu. 

Portrait of female professor with long brown hair and bangs

Assistant Professor Hue-Tam Jamme

This month, Arizona State University researcher Hue-Tam Jamme joins those bikers — not as a buyer, but rather as an observer of the lively street scene. 

Armed with a few cameras and a keen eye, the assistant professor in the School of Geographic Science and Urban Planning is capturing her surroundings as part of her research, which is supported by a grant from the ASU Center for Asian Research.

The footage will serve as data for her latest study — a continuation of the research she conducted after her 2018 trip to the city. That’s when she introduced the theory of "productive frictions." The concept explains how motorbike mobility in Vietnam produces high opportunities for commercial and social interactions on city streets.

But since then, more and more people have been driving cars. After her initial visit, Jamme concluded that cars may displace motorbikes and could be “like a kick in an anthill, likely to completely revamp the ecology of the streets.” She believes they will likely reduce the level of productive frictions in cities.

This week, ASU News caught up with Jamme in Ho Chi Minh City and talked about her research and her surprising results so far. 

Google map of Vietnam focusing on Ho Chi Minh City

Hue-Tam Jamme is conducting research in Ho Chi Minh City, the most populous city in Vietnam.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Can you explain the research you are doing this month?

Answer: Car ownership was on the rise when I left (in 2018). Since then, the number of cars on the streets has really grown.

I was mostly interested in documenting the importance of motorbikes in shaping city life, but with this question in mind — what happens to this urbanism once there are more and more cars on the street? 

Now, I'm following up to see if the changes I predicted are actually happening.

Q: What does the first part of your research entail?

A: Since I arrived here, I've been interviewing people about how they organize their everyday life — from where they live, work, shop and how they socialize. 

My aim is to get at the role of their mode of transportation in connecting the dots between all these different aspects of their lives. I’m also talking to those who own cars, in order to get at that new experience. 

Q: How did you conduct the second part of your research?

A: This research begins on a motorbike, with me using an action camera. 

Today, early in the morning, I did the first of a series of recordings at 9 a.m. and then another series at noon. Each series is on four different street segments in the Phu Nhuan neighborhood — the right side (sidewalk and ground floor), the left side, traffic in one direction and traffic in the other direction. 

I got traveling shots capturing everything that is happening — beginning with the ground floor of the buildings, and next, on the sidewalk and in my traffic lane directly connected to the sidewalk. 

Then I did a second shot, where I recorded traffic for five minutes. Based on those traffic counts, I will be able to calculate an hourly traffic flow by type of vehicle.

Q: What is this experience like?

A: I ride very slowly when I’m recording on my motorbike, not so much because of traffic but to make sure every single vehicle, person and storefront is captured correctly on the screen and can be counted accurately.

It's quite dangerous to record the left side video on the one-way street because it is where the cars and trucks drive (motorbikes ride on the right side) and traffic goes faster than on the other side because there is no productive friction on that side, no parking, no stopping — just traffic going through.

After riding the motorbike around for half a day, I am quite dirty. I’m covered with a mixture of dust, humidity from the air and sweat. I have to wear a helmet, pants and long sleeves to protect myself from the sun, a mask to filter out all the dust and fumes from the exhaust pipes, and when it rains, a raincoat that feels like wearing a giant plastic bag.

Woman taking video from her motorbike in Vietnam

Hue-Tam Jamme on her motorbike in Vietnam.

Q: What are your preliminary findings — are cars replacing motorbikes?

A: That is something I've been asking myself and revising my position on, well not my position, but my way of approaching these changes.

I used to talk about mobility transition — shifting away from one mode to adopt another. And yet now, at least in Ho Chi Minh City, that’s not what’s happening. What I'm hearing from car owners is that they don't use it every day.

They take trips that they weren’t taking before — trips to the beach, to visit family. … They bring their entire household, which they couldn’t do on their motorbike. So they own the car, but it doesn’t replace the motorbike.

For changes to be visible, five years might not be such a long time. Maybe I need to return five years from now, to see that actually change. I'm not hoping that it changes. I mean, I’m not trying to promote it one way or another, but for now that way of life is still in place.

Photos and video by Hue-Tam Jamme

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

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Study: Black farmers face bank bias regarding loans; impacts are generational, far reaching

July 11, 2023

ASU business professor explains findings from research on racial disparities in farm loans

Black farmers have historically and systemically been at a disadvantage when competing with their counterparts.

They have had less land, inferior crops, have been shorted on generational wealth and have a harder time accessing business loans than white farmers, according to an Arizona State University professor’s new study on the subject.

Ashok Mishra, the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation Chair in Food Management in the Morrison School of Agribusiness, part of the W. P. Carey School of Business, along with two other principal investigatorsGianna Short and Charles B. Dodson, took a deep dive into this issue through a new study titled “Racial disparities in farm loan application processing: Are Black farmers disadvantaged?” which was recently published in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

ASU News spoke to Mishra about how Black farmers have historically been discriminated against in services from the federal government, including access to credit.

Note: Answers have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

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Ashok Mishra

Question: What made you undertake this particular study or why did you see a need to conduct this study?

Answer: The genesis of this study is rooted in my employment history. After getting my PhD in 1996, I worked for the United States Department of Agriculture from 1997–2007. During that time, the USDA was grappling with Pigford vs. Glickman ... (a) class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against African American farmers in the allocation of farm loans. Credit access can affect farm productivity, profitability and the income of farming households through liquidity constraints, requiring farmers to use lower levels and lower-quality inputs. As a student of labor economics, I was taught that discrimination is very hard to assess because of all the intricacies involved in economic modeling. The lawsuit intrigued my curiosity and economic thinking.

Even though I left (the) USDA in 2007 to take a professorship at Louisiana State University, I have been contemplating the issue of discrimination and how to test discrimination empirically. Fast forward, I joined ASU in 2015. The current focus (here) on diversity, equity and inclusion provided the impetus for the study. Diversity in farm businesses remains scant and elusive. I found that researchers at the USDA agency were also interested in this issue and had the data to test the discrimination hypothesis.

Q: What are the forms of discrimination that you found in this study?

A: Access to credit allows farmers to satisfy cash needs induced by the agricultural production cycle, purchase farmland and other real estate, and invest in fixed improvements. In loan programs, discrimination can take several forms — for example, reduced loan amounts, higher interest rates or increased loan processing time. In this study, we investigated delays in loan application completion and processing time (in days) as forms of discrimination. Minority farmers usually lack the documents — income statement, assets, balance sheet — to submit loan applications. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) of (the) USDA is a lender of last resort and makes direct farm ownership and operating loans to family-sized farms that cannot obtain loans from elsewhere. Many farmers get loans from the FSA program.

Delays in access to credit, such as increased loan processing time, can affect the timely planting and harvesting of crops and feed for livestock. In this study, we considered loan processing time for two types of loans — farm ownership loans and operating loans — by Black farmers compared to white farmers.

We find significant differences in loan application completion and processing times for operating loans. The most striking finding from this study is that it takes significantly longer for loan application completion and loan processing time for Black borrowers compared to all other farmers.

Longer loan application completion for Black borrowers could be due to a lack of communication between the loan officer and applicant, failure to provide a clear and accurate description of the information and documents required, and attempts to discourage applicants.

Q: What are the long-term negative impacts of this type of discrimination towards Black farmers?

A: Historically, Black farmers faced adversities in agricultural business mainly due to access to land and participation in government farm program payment — primarily geared for grain producers and base acreage. Consequently, Black farmers faced barriers to their ability to engage in production agriculture and the affordability of land rental rates. They missed the opportunity to take advantage of farm program payments and lost capitalizing government payments on farmland markets, resulting in a lost opportunity to build generational wealth.

In the long term, discrimination could result in slower growth in generational wealth accumulation, fewer farms owned by Black farmers, decreased supply of food and fiber, loss of livelihood, increased poverty and food insecurity.

Q: Does your study include recommendations to improve Black farmers' situation? 

A: After reading this research publication, readers can easily glean several recommendations. First, investment in education is paramount. Education plays a significant role in producers' ability to process information and seek a solution that maximizes their welfare, particularly for Black farmers. Additionally, they are more likely to participate in business recordkeeping and financial management. 

Secondly, increasing financial literacy in rural communities, especially among Black farmers, can reduce distrust among farmers, decision-makers, loan officers and program officers.

Thirdly, investment in public infrastructure like information technology can bring transparency in rules, document requirements, market information, government programs and timely information for borrowers, lenders and decision-makers.

Q: Your next study is actually an expansion on this one. Tell us what you'll be doing.

A: The current study paved the way for the next study. ... The study proposes to investigate the impact of soil quality and climate change on the debt repayment capacity and access to farm loans by minority farmers in the U.S.  

Farm performance and revenues are inherently linked with production, affected by — among other things — soil quality, irrigation, climatic conditions and income capacity of loans. Minority or socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers generate less revenue on average, have greater difficulty qualifying for agricultural loans or may be dissuaded from applying for credit. The above situation is exacerbated by low soil quality and increased climatic risks. In the next three years, we will be exploring the above issues using firm and state-level data.

Top photo courtesy of iStock/Getty Images

Reporter , ASU News