Learning Space Event: Rights to community forest and the importance of forest land to ethnic minorities in Vietnam

  • On September 30th, CIRUM held an event on community forest rights and the importance of forest land to the communities where we work.

    The event consisted of a series of talks from CIRUM Director Tran Thi Hoa, and several representatives of ethnic minority communities who shared their experiences of development issues in Vietnam.

    The aim of the event was to raise awareness of community forest land (traditional forests)-related Forestry Law Revision Advocacy and development issues, while providing an opportunity for ethnic minority community members to advocate for themselves and become a part of a supportive and solution-oriented network.

    The event was a part of the framework of the Civil Action and Socio-Economic Inclusion in Sustainable Development for Ethnic Minorities in Northern Vietnam (CASI) program funded by Danida and Care Denmark. It was chaired by the Ethnic Minorities Working Group (EMWG). The event was well-attended, and participants from different communes expressed interest in joining LandNet- CIRUM’s network for Forestry Law Revision advocacy.

    Participants at the Learning Space/ Photo: CIRUM

    Members of ethnic minority groups from all over Vietnam attended the session, including Dien Bien, Bac Kan, Lang Son,Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Quang Tri. Sam Thi Tien, of Black Thai ethnicity from Dong Van commune, spoke about her villages struggles with relocation and access to forest land. Tien’s village was forced to relocate due to the construction of the Cua Dat Hydropower plant, and no longer have access to their traditional forest- “We found nowhere to organize cultural ceremonies to pray for our health, crops and animals’ growth. We suffered a lot: many people got sick and livestock could not resist to diseases. At the end, our villages had to ask a household to borrow a big tree in their land to become our spiritual tree where we continue praying for our people and crops. Since then, everything is getting better.” Despite the 40km distance between the new village and the new community forest, Tien says that they often make the trek to collect bamboo and medicinal plants in the same way they did in the past.

    Ms Sam Thi Tien/Photo: CIRUM

    Vi Dinh Van, also from Dong Van commune and LandNet coordinator spoke about the ongoing fight for their rights to community forest land over the local rubber companies. Van said “Our community forest land has been grabbed by rubber company. They plant rubber trees on our allocated community forest land and on our traditional forest land. Rubber plantation not only damages the local biodiversity, but also cause land dispute and social insecurity. We have been advocating our rights to forest land by continuing to send complaints to local and provincial authorities. With CIRUM and LandNet consultations, we have succeeded to stop the company expanding rubber plantation.” The Nghe An Provincial People’s Committee has ordered the company to cease planting of new rubber trees, but Van predicts a long fight ahead for his village.

    Mr Vi Dinh Van/Photo: CIRUM

    CIRUM’s Director, Tran Thi Hoa, spoke about why community forest is so important to the lives of EM people. The community forest is used to practice culture and ceremonies, and despite being a vital part of the community life is constantly threatened and under-represented in Forest Law. Hoa argued that the most effective way to manage forest land is through the use of local customary law: “In comparison to statutory laws, customary law is cost-effective (do not have to pay for someone to implement the law) and easy to implement (agreed by all villagers before being approved).  Community forest is not taken into account consistently in both Land Law and Forestry Law. As a result, land disputes and land-grabs are happening in many places.”

    Ms Tran Thi Hoa/Photo: CIRUM

    The event inspired interest in many participants to become members of LandNet, and excellent outcome for the day. One participant said “I feel thankful to attend this event. People who live in cities would never know entirely about the importance of community forest to EM communities unless they are as lucky as I am to have chance to listen to EM directly. Your stories are very inspiring. They motivate me to do something for the EM to protect their rights over their community forests. From now on, I will think about anything I eat, I buy or I do to ensure that I don’t impact forests or the EM negatively.”

    CIRUM continues to inspire learning and advocacy for ethnic minority land rights, and hopes to hold many more informative events in future.