Social and economic development: Phuoc Tuy 1966 to 1971

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By Bob Hall

Over the course of the war between 1966 when the Australian Task Force arrived, to the end of 1971 when the Task Force departed, Phuoc Tuy Province underwent significant changes. Some of these were the direct result of civil affairs projects. Some were indirect results of these projects. Still others were the result of improving security and the development of secure roads, markets and the resultant stimulation of commerce within the province. Although the Australian Task Force contributed to these developments, other organisations within the province did too. In addition to other aid agencies such as the Republic of Korea surgical team at Baria hospital and US Seabees and an Engineer detachment, the South Vietnamese government and province authorities made a significant contribution through direct action and economic policy decisions. As a result it is sometimes difficult to identify improvements in the social and economic structure of the province that were due solely to Australian intervention. However, in a campaign that was as much a political struggle as a military one, these contributions improved the lives of many citizens of Phuoc Tuy Province helping to win their support for the national government.

The level of improvement in the lives of local citizens can be judged from the following three tables which compare the situation in 1966 when 1ATF arrived in the province, and the situation in late 1971 when the Task Force withdrew. The first shows some factors affecting social development within the province.

Table 1: Some Social Developments in Phuoc Tuy[1]



End of 1971










Elementary school students



Secondary school students



Hospital beds




By late 1971 there had been an increase in the province population of about 25%, mainly as a result of the influx of refugees from elsewhere in South Vietnam. Yet a series of other social development factors show a much greater increase over the same period. The take-up of radios and televisions within the province was particularly interesting. The mass production of the transistor radio during the 1960s brought these devices within the financial reach of even the poorest peasants in the province. Ownership of a transistor radio gave mostly illiterate peasants vital information about the market prices for their farm produce. The radio was a key to getting a fair price for their goods and helped many peasants to begin the long, slow journey towards achieving a higher income and better living standards. But the take-up of radios was important in other ways. Once the peasant had purchased one, the government, and President Thieu in particular, could speak directly to the household, conveying his political messages. For many peasants who may never have ventured more than a few kilometres from their home village, the radio may also have contributed to a growing sense of nationhood.

A secret weapon? Transistor radios had a significant impact on the campaign in Phuoc Tuy Province and elsewhere.

There was an additional indirect effect of the take-up of radios throughout the province. Knowing the market price for their produce put farmers in a better bargaining position with traders and secured them better prices. The VC and the PAVN forces operating within Phuoc Tuy relied on local suppliers for their food. They came under pressure to match the increasing market prices for the food they required. No doubt some food was supplied free of charge by their die-hard supporters in the villages, but those farmers less committed to the cause would require the VC to meet market prices. This would force the VC to adopt a combination of several options; demanding food without payment or at discounted prices, raising taxes to pay the higher prices, diverting some of their combat strength to growing their own food, and importing money to fund food purchases. There is evidence that the enemy in Phuoc Tuy Province tried all four options.[2] The first two were unlikely to endear local peasants to the enemy cause. The second two reduced their combat strength and increased their vulnerability.

Televisions also underwent a similar dramatic increase in the province. Being more expensive, television sets tended to be purchased by a growing ‘middle class’ of citizens with more disposable income. But they too linked the citizen with the government.

The figures in table 1 show that there was a significant increase in school attendance. However this tended to be seasonal. Some children (of peasant farmers in particular) left school to assist their parents during harvest time. Health services indicated by the availability of hospital beds also increased dramatically over the period.

Table 2: Some Economic Developments in Phuoc Tuy Province[3]



End of 1971

Rice production (metric tonnes)



Salt production (metric tonnes)

49,670 (in 1967)


Sea food production (metric tonnes)

12,259 (in 1967)


Fruit (excluding bananas) (metric tonnes)



Vegetables (metric tonnes)









Timber production (cubic metres)



Farm tractors






Registered trucks



Registered motorcycles




Phuoc Tuy Province was a ‘rice import province’ which meant that although it produced rice, it did not produce enough to feed its own population. Extra rice had to be imported from ‘rice export provinces’ to the south of Phuoc Tuy in the Mekong delta. There was a modest increase in rice production over the period 1966 to end of 1971 but this did not keep pace with the growth of population and the province remained a ‘rice import province’.[4]

Rice production in the province remained relatively stable throughout the period.

While rice production flat-lined, production of other commodities skyrocketed. Salt production increased, sea food production trebled and timber production more than doubled. These commodities brought considerable additional wealth into the province. The dramatic increases in pig and poultry production are areas where the increase can be substantially attributed to Australian civil affairs efforts. Under an

Australian Civil Affairs unit members unload pigs for a farmer in Phuoc Tuy Province. Such work was as vital to the outcome of the campaign as the battles and contacts.

An Australian Civil Affairs Unit officer chats with a Vietnamese farmer about chicken husbandry while children look on.

Australian Civil Affairs Unit project, Australian agricultural experts were brought to Phuoc Tuy to teach farmers improved methods of pig and poultry husbandry. The project distributed breeding stock to Vietnamese farmers and those taking up the breeding stock were required to pass on piglets to others in their community. The results in terms of pig and poultry production can be clearly seen in the table. But this tells only part of the story. A rising middle class in South Vietnam was demanding more meat in their diet and by late 1971 prices for pigs and poultry soared as table 3 shows. Phuoc Tuy farmers who had taken up pig and poultry farming as a result of the Australian civil affairs unit effort were reaping the benefits.

Table 3: Estimated prices received by farmers: Three commodities.[5]


Price in 1966 (VN$ per kg)

Price in late 1971 (VN$ per kg)

Paddy rice










Increased timber production was particularly significant. It not only contributed to commerce in the province, but it also reflected the improving security situation. Logging of the forests required workers to venture into the jungle and retrieve timber, hauling it back to sawmills in the bigger towns and cities often along isolated roads and tracks that ran through areas previously dominated by the VC. The expansion of the timber industry was a sign that VC control of the remote jungle-covered areas in Phuoc Tuy Province was much reduced by the end of 1971 largely due to the efforts of 1ATF.[6] The Cambodian incursion had also had a very positive effect on economic development throughout Military Region 3. As Lieutenant General Michael S. Davison, Commanding General, II Field Force Vietnam noted:

The economic situation in MR 3 also benefited by the improved security and confidence derived from the Cambodian Campaign. Economic activity increased considerably in the rice, lumber, and rubber industries due to improved freedom of movement between provinces and increased willingness by entrepreneurs to undertake risks in reviving industries previously stagnated by VC presence. The overall economic situation can be considered as improved and the long term outlook appears favorable for continued growth and improvement.

The sharp rise in the number of registered trucks in the province is another sign of improving security. Logging businesses would not invest in an expensive truck if the vehicle was likely to be destroyed by a mine, ambushed as it carried its load, or forced to sit idle while timber cutters could not enter the jungle due to enemy activity.

Although there were a few motorcycles in Phuoc Tuy in 1966, motorcycle ownership had ballooned by the end of 1971. Motorcycle ownership was an especially important measure of improving security in the province. Unlike trucks and other heavy vehicles owned by companies, motorcycles were purchased by individual citizens, often farmers. Yet, as anyone who has visited Vietnam will know, they were essentially a commercial vehicle. When they were not carrying the driver (and often, several other members of his or her family), they were piled high with produce bound for the market. And they enabled their owner to get produce to the markets in the bigger towns like Baria, Long Dien or even Vung Tau, where better prices might be available. But like timber trucks, citizens were unlikely to spend their money on a motorcycle if they could not use it due to the security situation. The dramatic uptake of motorcycles in the province shows that commercial opportunities were expanding and that the perceived security threat was receding. The scale of the uptake in motorcycles and the fact that they were purchased by individual citizens (or families) suggests that the perception that security was improving, was widespread.

Over the period from 1966 to late 1971 the social and economic conditions in Phuoc Tuy Province had improved considerably. Some of the improvement was due to direct and indirect effects of Australian operations in the province but other players also contributed. While conditions in the province and nationally continued to improve, the national economy faced very serious problems. The withdrawal of US and other Free World forces, well underway in 1971, would have major impacts on the economy. Although the Thieu regime had stabilized the political situation relative to the period from 1963 to 1965, it faced the potential turmoil of a Presidential election campaign in late 1971 that could renew political instability.[7] Finally, inflation had largely been brought under control in 1971 through economic policies set by the Saigon regime, but another enemy offensive could undo that good work.


[1] National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, USA, Record Group 472, Province team 89, Box 23. Data in table 1 and table 2 were collected by US Advisory Team 89 which provided advice and support to the Vietnamese Province administration in Phuoc Tuy.

[2] See Ross, Hall and Griffin, The Search for Tactical Success in Vietnam, Cambridge, Melbourne, 2015, Chapter 12. ‘Food scrounging’ incidents increased from 91 in 1970 to 247 in 1971. ‘Tax impositions’ increased from 88 in 1970 to 249 in 1971. AWM95 1/4/186,  INTSUM 8 April 70, p. 39 (see also INTSUM 11 June 69) shows that the enemy was diverting manpower to food production cells but was still unable to meet demand. Also see AWM95, 7/2/76, The Shadow Supply System in Phuoc Tuy Province, pp. 158-161. Ernest Chamberlain, The Viet Cong D440 Battalion: Their Story (and the battle of Binh Ba), Ernest Chamberlain, Point Lonsdale, 2013, p. 86 describes a mission by elements of D440 to bring money and gold bullion from Cambodia into Phuoc Tuy Province to pay for food and other supplies.

[3] National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, USA, Record Group 472, Province team 89, Box 23.

[4] Throughout most of the period, South Vietnam relied on rice imports. However, due to strong economic measures taken by the Saigon government, by 1971/72 self-sufficiency in rice production was expected. A harvest of 6 million tons was hoped for compared with 5.6 million tons in 1970/71, when imports were 650,000 tons. See Quarterly Economic Review, No. 3: 1971 Economic Review of Indochina, 17 September 1971.

[5] USAID Agricultural Production Memo No. 30, table 6. The data are derived from weighted average provincial market prices (if available), adjusted for fixed marketing margins.

[6] Department of the Army, Senior Officer Debriefing Report: LTG Michael S. Davison, CG, II Field Force Vietnam and Third Regional Assistance Command, period 15 April 70 thru 26 May 71, dated 8 July 1971. While there is no doubt this made a substantial contribution the operations of 1ATF over the long term also had a major impact. See Ross, Hall and Griffin, The Search for Tactical Success in Vietnam: An analysis of Australian Task Force Combat Operations, Cambridge, Melbourne, 2015.

[7] A forthcoming article will discuss the 1971 Presidential election campaign and its implications.


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