Lessons on Forest Transition from Vietnam
By Elizabeth Kahurani (Nairobi) - Vietnam is one of the countries that have experienced forest transition -a move from net forest deforestation to net reforestation and this has partly been as a result of strong government policies on reforestation and forest protection. During this year’s ASB Partnership annual governance meeting, participants had a chance to visit two sites in Lam Dong province where the government is piloting a policy on Payment for Forest Environmental Service (PFES) in a bid to enhance forest protection and governance.
Under PFES, households enter into yearly government contracts where they are expected to protect and tend to the forest and in return they receive payments at the end of the year based on the forest area contracted. In the two sites of Da Nhim and Da Chais watersheds, a total of 350 households are part of the program and each household covers an area of 31 and 28 ha in the two areas respectively, where they receive USD 20 per hectare. Direct payments are made to farmers from the provincial forest protection and development fund which is sustained through contributions from hydro-electricity power plants, water and ecotourism companies who benefit from the watersheds -a perfect case of the downstream users paying the upstream providers.
Since its inception in 2009, the programme has achieved many benefits - illegal logging and deforestation have been on the decline and the area now maintains a forest cover of about 80%; farmers have also accrued economic gains to improve their livelihoods. “I use the money to buy farm inputs that keep my coffee farm productive for higher yields,” said one of the farmers in the program. Others interviewed said they have managed to pay education and meet other basics for their families with the money received under PFES. But perhaps the most important outcome of the initiative is raising the level of awareness on the value of preserving forests among the communities involved. When asked whether he would stop protecting the forest if there was no payment, Kon Sa Ha Nhong, another farmer from one of the sites said he would still continue to protect the forest because the forest keeps the environment conducive for better yields on his farm.
For the continued success of the programme, accountability and transparency are paramount. Mr. Le Tri Quang Minh, an official of the PFES Watershed Forest Management Board scheme notes that the selection process and criteria to determine households that receive contracts is conducted openly. Priority is given to poor households and ethnic minorities who have to prove their ability to provide forest protection services. The final selection is done through a voting process. Women are also involved with about 40 to 60 of them signing the contracts directly.
“The success of this programme is an example of what government commitment and support can do for ecosystem services. African countries in particular could learn a lot from this success story,” noted Peter Minang’, ASB Partnership Global Coordinator.
In Vietnam, the effectiveness of this pilot programme has led to its scale up to national levels with a government legislation instituting a national payment for forest environmental services mechanism. It serves as a model for many countries struggling to cross the forest transition mark.