Transfer of land-use rights from the state to community to encourage community forest management (CFM) and use of forest resources for livelihood improvement has been in place in Vietnam since the 1990s. However, while the policies, institutions, and approaches used to develop this model still continue to be developed and improved by the State and NGOs, the specific practical aspects of policy implementation and confirmation of performance still need further evaluation.
In 2019, People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) – a MRLG partner organization in Vietnam – in collaboration with the Central Highlands University conducted a baseline study in two piloted CFM models in Yang Mao commune, Dak Lak province, Central Highlands Vietnam. The study was carried out to analyze the current situation of CFM models within the study area, and analysing the potentials and constraints related to current forest management, which also looked across the two CFM models for lesson learned and discuss the factors that influence the effectiveness of CFM on the ground.
Tul and Hang Nam village are two of 11 villages of Yang Mao – a mountainous commune of Krong Bong district. The villagers are doing swidden cultivation (maze and cassava) and animal husbandry as livelihood activities.
In 2002, these two villages were selected by the District authority as part of pilot location for forest allocation program to entire community with the area of nearly 1500 ha forestland (1,130.7 for Tul and 404.8 for Hang Nam respectively). Natural production forests account for 64% of the area while the rest were baren land that was designed for tree plantations. The rights to forests of these two villages are specified based on the 50 years forest allocation indenture (Green-book), instead of the official land-use certificate, including: rights to use and get benefits from forest products (timber and Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for both household demand and for commercial purposes and be allowed to call for investment in forest production activities. A local agreement on forest management and benefit sharing mechanism was also developed among villagers during this period.
However, for nearly 15 years the villagers have benefited little from the allocated forests, except for use of NTFPs for household demands. They also have not received any support, both financially and technically from local authorities or NGOs for their efforts in forest protection and management. As the result, the allocated forest areas in both villages have decreased, approximately 1.7-1.9% per year. The main causes of deforestation are mainly due to encroachment and illegal logging. The lack of guideline in forest management by state authority and the clear benefit sharing mechanism also reduced people’s motivation to protect forests. The loss of these community forests also placed great pressure on the rich natural forests nearby.
Since 2014, the situation has improved greatly through the implementation of Payment for Forest Ecosystem Services (PES). Nearly 700 ha of community forests are under PES scheme. With the support from District Forest Protection Unit and local authority, the groups of villagers are organized to carry out forest patrol activities. Village rules related to forest management, which detail local activities allowed within the village boundaries and under PES schemes, have been discussed and employed strictly.
This study has highlighted some key points that can influence on the effectiveness of CFM which are the fact that the local villagers are already legally entitled to full benefits from the allocated forests. However, in practice, forestland-use certificate is necessary but not sufficient condition to guarantee local villagers’ right to benefit from the forests; Forest-related financial incentives, such as PES play a very important role in promoting people’s motivation; the local social and political assets, such as the culture of a close relationship with forests, leadership, trust, local forest practices, clear regulation and responsibility, clear and appropriate benefit-sharing mechanism and collective action, also can be considered as important factors in designing and operating CFM; and the engagement and collaboration of multi-stakeholders, including local authorities, forest rangers, state forest owners and local communities in forest management are key for inclusive and sustainable forest governance.