are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.
|Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge||MOST/NUFFIC (IK-Unit)|
Village Forest Protection Regulations in Vietnam: strengthening participation in natural resource management
Community development, forest conservation, forest management, natural resources, resource management
Introducing the practice
The method of protecting forests
reported here was introduced by the Social Forestry Development Project (SFDP)
Song Da, a technical cooperation project between the Governments of Vietnam and
Germany in the provinces of Lai Chau and So La in Northwest Vietnam. The area is
inhabited mainly by Thai and Hmong ethnic minorities, who together represent
almost 65% of the population. The rest are mostly members of the Kinh majority.
In both provinces the Thai minority is
settled mainly around river valleys where they have established wet rice fields,
fishponds and orchards on the lower slopes. Around the paddy fields and on
upland plots maize and cassava are cultivated. Timber, fuelwood, bamboo and
other products are extracted from the nearby hill forests. These are regarded as
common property to which everyone has equal access rights, while the
sustainability of the area is ensured by local customary rules. Only trees and
bamboo clumps planted by individuals are considered individual property.
Traditionally, forest areas regarded as
important for watershed protection have been maintained, keeping their
ecological functions intact. Locally, where forest resources had become scarce,
indigenous systems of forest protection and regulated utilization evolved, such
as the Nyom Pa system in Chieng Hac commune in which the remaining
patches of hill-top forest were protected by an appointed member of the
community. The Nyom Pa system guided decisions concerning the location
and length of rotation of upland fields, planting and felling of bamboo and
timber, and the placement of forest fruit gardens. During recent decades the
system has been displaced by committee structures. However, villagers indicated
a clear need to reorganize the Nyom Pa system as a very useful,
traditional means of effective resource protection.
Trees are selected for cutting on the
basis of the various species’ properties, accessibility and timber quality.
Rattan, fruit, mushrooms and medicinal plants are also extracted from the
forest. In recent years, however, over-exploitation has made these products
scarce. Only bamboo, with its vigorous coppicing ability, remains abundant on
degraded soil unsuitable for agricultural production and is used in frequent
ways by the local population.
Near a few Thai villages remnants of
sacred forests still exist. Their origin lies in the old animistic beliefs and
traditions of the Thai people. These patches consist of natural forest trees and
bamboo clumps believed to shelter the spirits that influence the village.
Clearly separated from the sacred forest are the forest cemeteries of the Thai
people, which also consist of small groves of natural trees close to the
The Hmong are mountain dwellers
practising shifting cultivation. Their main crops are upland rice and maize.
Under pressure of diminishing land resources, rapid population growth and
government programmes, the Hmong in many places have changed their system of
cultivation from a wandering to a sedentary type. In some places they have
developed complex upland farming systems that reflect intimate knowledge of
natural resource management. Beekeeping is commonly practised using traditional
Their system of shifting cultivation
intersperses forest and upland plots and incorporates various species of useful
trees. Individual trees along the edges of fields are claimed by households for
private use. Tree ownership may be distinct from land ownership, particularly in
the case of host trees (Dalbergia hupeana) on which the insects that
produce the resin used in shellac production live.
Remaining forest areas not included in
the shifting cultivation system are located on steep slopes and on limestone
mountains. These forests provide timber for house building and fuelwood, and a
few non-timber products. Traditionally, there is a common understanding among
the Hmong that the forest is a resource to which everyone has free access.
However, traditional rules limited unsustainable resource utilization.
forest protection regulations
With the cooperation of the Forest Protection Department of Son La province, the SFDP began in late 1998 to develop a method of protecting forests and regulating their exploitation at village level. The government had identified such a need, and wished to improve farmers’ ability to analyse their forest resources and traditional rules. The aim of the project was to develop and adopt regulations that would respond to the needs of both farmers and the government and which could realistically be enforced. Consequently, traditional rules and resource management techniques were identified and integrated into the regulations. Primary responsibility was handed over to the community itself rather than to external agencies. Up to now, over 500 villages have developed and adopted their own sets of regulations.
Contents and approach
In 1996 the government introduced
official forest protection regulations (decision 77-CP). These consisted mainly
of lists of prohibited activities and the sanctions associated with them. Local
people were excluded from access to forestland by a system of fines enforced by
the Forest Protection Units. In other words, the official regulations did not
take farmers’ needs and interests into account and therefore failed to achieve
community-based forest management. At the same time, state capacity to enforce
the forest regulations was weak.
At this stage the project facilitated a
dialogue to increase the participation of the local population and succeeded in
establishing trust, respect and an exchange of information among local
communities and forest protection officers. It then assisted in the development
of the new Forest Protection and Development Regulations through workshops with
the stakeholders and agencies involved, trial implementation and final approval
at provincial level. From the very beginning traditional rules were incorporated
into the new regulations and as a result communities developed an interest in
their continuation and success.
As described above, the practice of
protecting forests and regulating their use originated in the community itself.
Local people have always understood that they depend on the forest for their
subsistence and for the role it plays in local ecosystems. But there is also a
more spiritual basis for their relationship with the forest. They have therefore
always had rules for forest protection and management at village level. Some of
these are still in force, others have become outdated as they could not be
adapted to the present environment. In this context the new regulations provide
a legal basis to revive and adapt traditional rules and to ensure that they are
recognized by the local authorities.
The entire process of developing
regulations is placed in the village and is carried out by the community itself.
At village meetings the community members first share their ideas and opinions
on the purpose of regulations and what they would like to achieve with them. The
next step is to draft the regulations. This too takes place in a participatory
way, ensuring that traditional rules are incorporated. The regulations define in
detail (a) the areas concerned (grouped according to specific purposes); (b)
rewards and penalties for certain behaviour; (c) hunting and grazing rules and
(d) fire prevention measures.
The main feature of the method described
here is that local people are actively involved in the decision-making process,
so that regulations suited to the local situation are drafted. Standard
regulations are no longer issued in a top-down way; instead each village
develops its own specific regulations. The new approach ensures the commitment
of the local community because taking over traditional rules and giving them a
legal basis (through approval by the district authorities) serves that
community’s interests. Regulations are enforced at village level with the
support of forest rangers, allowing local people to be directly involved in
forest protection and management and traditional institutions to take
responsibility in this area. In this way communities benefit from timber and
non-timber forest products, without endangering the sustainable use of natural
resources since forest utilization is linked with effective forest protection.
Furthermore, the relationship between
local communities and officers of the Forest Protection Department has
considerably improved. A dialogue in which opinions are exchanged and needs and
wishes clarified in order to achieve a common understanding of the situation and
the obstacles involved is essential to overcoming the communication gap between
the two groups.
Male and female villagers of all ages take part in the process to establish Forest Protection and Development Regulations. Since women represent an important forest user group and the sexes often follow different resource utilization patterns in the same woodlot, their activities have to be identified and coordinated for mutual long-term benefit. This is essential if the regulations are to be successful.
The village meetings at which the
regulations are discussed and drafted provide forest users with the tools and
skills they need to analyse their own forest resources and to generate new ideas
regarding forest protection and management. Village sketch maps are drawn as a
basis for discussion and the distribution of specific natural resources
identified and mapped using local names.
Regulations are drafted to cover any or all of the following:
· Harvesting of forest products.
· Creation of upland plots through clearing and burning.
· Fire prevention and control.
· Cattle grazing.
· Hunting of wildlife.
· Specification of the rights and duties of individuals who own and/or protect patches of forest.
· Specification of procedures for fining, compensating and rewarding.
Dissemination of information about the
Once all members of a village have agreed on a set of Forest Protection and Development Regulations, the village leader submits the regulations to the communities’ authorities, who forward them to the district authorities for approval. Local forestry officers facilitate the process of establishing the regulations and obtaining approval and feedback from district level. Once established, the regulations are distributed in the village either as a poster at common meeting points or as copies for each individual household.
The role of indigenous knowledge
‘Islands’ of forest containing valuable biodiversity are preserved in spite of the current pressure to place more and more land under intensive cultivation. Indigenous beliefs and practices regarding sacred forests and graveyard forests have been instrumental in this. Even today new areas for graveyard forests are set aside by villagers and protected accordingly. The resulting patches of forest found near many villages play an important role in the general ecosystem, especially in watershed areas like Song Da. They also provide starting points for future natural regeneration.
Even today, funerals are major village events. Graves are elaborately decorated and great ceremony surrounds a burial. Such traditions give a society its cultural identity. Forest Protection and Development Regulations help to validate and preserve such traditions because they have adopted the traditional way of classifying the forest, which is shared and understood by all members of the village, both young and old. This common understanding prevents people from harvesting inside protected areas. The regulations also reinforce this valuable understanding by increasing villagers’ awareness of the additional benefits of forest protection.
Achievements and results
To date, Forest Protection and Development Regulations have been approved and have legal force in both provinces. They are implemented by the Forest Protection Department, drawing on the national budget. This institutionalization of the process is considered crucial to ensuring continuation even after the project has ended.
The regulations have been established in more than 500 villages in the two provinces so far and implementation is continuing. Experience shows that villagers have become more aware of their forest resources and are committing far fewer violations. Incorporating existing and traditional rules of the community into the regulations increased their acceptance among villagers and ensured an independent commitment. Once regulations have been established, farmers feel responsible for their enforcement, since they drafted them themselves. This reduces the costs of external monitoring and ensures the long-term sustainability of the approach. Many villagers are concerned enough to protect certain forest areas voluntarily, without financial reward. The quality of the forests has improved remarkably; the incidence of forest fires in the dry season has fallen substantially and uncontrolled logging no longer takes place. For the people, the regulations combine responsibilities with benefits, so that forest protection and development becomes a concern of all. Experiencing the benefits of forest protection and regulated utilization should serve as an incentive to users to ensure that forest resources are used in a more sustainable manner.
This participatory method depends heavily on a good relationship between the forest ranger acting as facilitator and the villagers. It is vital that the facilitator be well qualified to guide the process of establishing regulations. Up to now, conventional forestry management has not included any training in participatory extension methods, which means that forestry officers do not possess the necessary skills. The staff involved must therefore be trained before they can do this work. To this end, the project provided training in facilitation skills and techniques and introduced aspects of adult learning for the staff responsible at district level.
What is more, the regulations can only be effective if villagers are themselves motivated to keep the issue alive during village meetings and on other occasions. Such independent initiative strongly depends on community spirit and/or on the effectiveness of Village Management Boards and other village organizations. Only if the whole village supports the regulations can a sense of ownership develop that is strong enough to guarantee their independent continuation in the long term.
Source of inspiration
This practice could be replicated in other areas or contexts provided several conditions are met. The first important condition is that the local authorities accept the approach. The authorities at district and provincial level must recognize the Forest Protection and Development Regulations and give them legal status. Only if the regulations are in line with other specific legislation can they be put into effective practice. Especially in cases of conflict between neighbouring villages, effective enforcement against outsiders can only succeed if the regulations are based on national law and are recognized by local authorities.
Furthermore, the process of land-use
planning and land allocation has to be completed so as to guarantee the
long-term tenure needed for the security of forest resources. This process
mainly involves resolving and legalizing traditional claims on forestland and
thus increasing local communities’ sense of ownership of forest resources. Of
particular importance are the definition of village boundaries and the
settlement of lingering conflicts over them. Forestland allocation also
increases people’s sense of ownership of the resource pool and increases their
independence within the decision-making process.
If you think that this case could be useful in a different context than the one described here, please get in touch first with the contact person listed below (Administrative data). Intellectual property rights could be an issue.
Social Forestry Development Project
1a Nguyen Cong Tru Street, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel.: +84 4 8214771 or +84 4 8214768
Fax: +84 4 8214765
Nguyen Luong Bang Street
La town, Son La province, Vietnam
+84 22 854179
+84 22 854511
GTZ, period: 1993-2004.
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