Legalization of ‘village forest’

  • When amending and supplementing the law on Forest Protection and Development, it is necessary to thoroughly consider the recognition of village communities as the true owners of forests. Village communities are a major force to manage, use, protect and develop forests, to meet the expectations of the state and aspirations of the community.
    Ethnic peoples, especially ethnic minorities residing in mountainous areas often have collective forests managed by the community. These forests have existed since the establishment of villages, so people commonly called them "village forests". According to the study and review from the reality of "village forest", the Culture Identity and Resources Use Management (CIRUM) affirmed that forests and community-based forest management has a very significant role in the lives of ethnic minorities as well as the national protection and development strategy. 
    The "village forests" are comprised of cultural, spiritual forests; forests for protection of water sources and habitats; forests used for the villagers’ collection of non-timber products. The existence of these forests represents the freedom of belief and spirituality of the peoples. Each locality has the name of different types of forests, such as the spiritual forests of the Mong ethnic people are called “Nào lồng forest, Thứ tỷ forest”; the Nung people have names of “Đổng hầu forest, Đổng chứ forest”; the Red Dao people call "Chía forest"; the Thai people call “Đông căm, Pá heo”; the Ka Dong people name them "Neng ngọc forest"; the Bru - Van Kieu people call "La pay forest", etc.
    From ancient times, ethnic people say, "the forest is the Father, the land is the Mother" and "when we live, land is ours, forests give ways to life; when we pass on, we are of the land, and forests become our keepers". They perceive that, the village forestland is the sacred land, in which there are gods governing and protecting the villagers. Also every year, different generations of the ethnic minority community organize worship towards forests and spirits, and they pray for happiness and thanksgiving. They organize ceremonies according to village customary law. Wherever this kind of sacred forest is lost, ethnic people would feel as if they are missing something.
    For many generations, the village, where the community resides is the real owner of the "village forest" and has a special role to play in managing, using, protecting and developing the forest according to village customary laws, cultural beliefs, and ecological environment protection.
    The traditional cultural values and practices of the ethnic minority villages have been respected by different social regimes. Villages of ethnic minorities are organized societies with organizational social structures and resource management in the form of self-governing, headed by village elders or village chiefs, who are elected or inherited, trusted and respected by the community. Villages have effective methods of forest management and protection according to their spiritual culture, convention or unwritten regulations, known as customary law. Though "village forest" has such role and effect, the allocation of forests to communities and the use of customary laws to manage, use, protect and develop forests at all levels and sectors are still inconsistent, while there are many different ways of understanding and implementation, some of which are not favorable to the people.
    According to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), there are 13 million hectares of forests in 2015, and 26% of that area was allocated to households, and only about 2% was allocated to communities. This rate is too low. In many places, people are disappointed because they face shortage of productive land, even lack of forestland to practice cultural beliefs and livelihoods associated with forests. This is one of the causes of land encroachment and conflict between ethnic minority people and companies or forest management boards. If this problem is not resolved well, it will be able to cause many unpredictable consequences. 
    For years, we have discussed and implemented a number of programs on forest management, protection and development, bringing into full play the strength of the forest with a large amount of investment. Some localities have achieved good results. But overall, forests have been severely damaged. In legislation and implementation of law and policies on forest, it is important to enhance the cultural identity of ethnic communities in forest management, protection and rehabilitation. It is important to take into account forest allocation to the local communities and to strengthen the link between the law and the customary law in an effective way. Ethnic minorities want the Party and the State to adjust and reallocate forest and forestland in a reasonable and fair manner and consistent with local customs and habits. Priority should be given to ethnic minority people to get forestland allocated; and their decent livelihoods and lives on the basis of forests should be ensured.
    Lù Văn Que
    Member of the Presidium of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee, former Vice Chairman of the National Committee for Ethnic Minorities
    Source in Vietnamese: