Publication details

Loss of rainforests & livelihoods in the annamite mountain range
Author: Culture Identity and Resources Use Management - CIRUM
Publication Date: 28 October 2013
Pages: 51
Keywords: Rainforest, deforestation, plantations, national park, conservation, forest land rights, rubber plantations, state forestry enterprise, collectivization, forest land allocation, land use planning, hydropower dam, Huong Son, Ha Tinh, livelihood security
Huong Son forests were once considered to have high bio-diversity, but collectivization of forest land in the 1960s and resultant over-exploitation by the state forest enterprise (SFE) led to severe damage. At the end of the 1990s various efforts were made to elevate Huong Son’s forests’ protection status, and reports as late as 1999 showed forests at higher elevations in good condition with signs of regeneration at lower levels. Nevertheless, just over a decade later only a few traces of what was once rich and diverse forest remain. What’s left is mainly poor forest, bare land, roads and plantations.

This study asks how this devastating loss occurred, seeking in particular to identify the causes of deforestation since 2005. It also asks how the legal framework, designed to protect important forest, proved ineffective.

The specific objective of this study is to understand the actors and mechanisms in forest governance, planning, protection and management, to understand the gaps in local regulations, their implementation and how different actors can make use of these gaps to by-pass regulations. Based on findings we draw conclusions and make specific recommendations to strengthen the governance of natural resources and particularly forest lands.                                                                                                                             

The geographical focus in this study is four upland communes in Huong Son district, Ha Tinh province. We interviewed formally and informally local communities, staff of the SFE and commune and district officials. We made field visits to observe and map forest condition. We have collected and reviewed a wide variety of data from different sources, both official and unofficial. Many documents were simply unavailable, or hidden, and there were many contradictions in data and mapping. We attempted to counter these factors by triangulation. At times, contradictions in maps and figures offered clues or were a source of information in itself and brought us to raise questions we did not foresee, but which were certainly helpful to bring us a step further in understanding local relations and planning and classification mechanisms.

We conclude that the collectivization of forest away from its household owners to poorly managed state bodies is a driving force for deforestation. Forest living people were deprived of their land and livelihoods, and little land has been returned to them for their survival. Without ownership they have no control over or benefit of their forests. This makes people spectators and participants in legal and illegal destruction. At the same time decisions that change forests and landscape irreversibly are taken behind closed doors without considering people’s needs and the impacts of these decisions. Yet forest people are dependent on the forest and need to find ways to derive benefits from it. Decisions taken at high level without local participation and approval will inevitably cause conflict. We touch on a couple examples of sustainable management of forests by local people that prove that with local ownership comes responsibility and sustainable planning.

The study recommends the allocation of production forest lands to households and ongoing support to them in viable land use techniques. A morotorium on mono-plantations in these areas should be declared until their effectiveness and environmental suitability is properly assessed. Allocation of  natural forests to households for protection should be recognized as part of their livelihood strategy and as an effective solution both for forest protection and regeneration. To regenerate important forests all watershed protection areas need to be closed for all kind of activity immediately.

We also recommend an overhaul of current mechanisms for land inventory, forest classification and development and socio economic planning at local level. Mapping, land inventories and assessments need to be performed by properly funded independent agencies. To ensure this independence, they need to be carried out in a participatory way with local communities and officials. Local committees could oversee and approve the exercises. Specific attention should go out to coordination and exchange information around mapping, land inventories and forest classification. Different departments should use the same information and maps as baseline for their planning. Once formulated and officially approved, development plans and forest classification should be taken as the starting  point to assess whether investments and other interventions are in line with plans (rather than the present habit of continously changing plans and forest classification to make them fit proposed investments).
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