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People's Participation in Forest Management in Viet Nam

Pham Xuan Phuong
Senior Expert
Department of Policy and Rural Development
Hanoi, Viet Nam


Since 1986, Viet Nam has embarked on an ambitious program of reform (Doi Moi). The transition to a market driven economy has benefited and affected people at all levels. At the same time, forest management policies and practices have also greatly shifted in emphasis.

After reunification in 1975, a central framework for forest management was developed which focused on utilizing forest resources for fueling national development. The government designed and implemented various measures to facilitate forest protection, and state-owned forest and agriculture enterprises were established to develop forest production systems. However, most of these policies did not adequately consider the needs of local communities (Cai 1999). As a result, local people paid little attention to these policies and programs, and deforestation and forest degradation continued.

The government has generally acknowledged that centralized forest management through the state-run institutions has failed. It now recognizes that local communities living in or near forest areas are in a key position to effectively implement forest management. Thus, the Government of Viet Nam has increasingly taken a "people centered approach" to forest management, which focuses on developing support projects to improve local people's livelihoods and well-being. One of the main thrusts of these policies is allocating forestland to rural households and allowing these households to share in benefits from forest management and protection. This paper focuses on some of the policies stimulating local people's participation in forest management in Viet Nam and the challenges in implementing these programs.

General Status of Forest Organization and Management in Viet Nam

In Viet Nam, land designated as forest area covers more than 17.6 million ha (54 percent of the country). However, land with actual natural forest cover constitutes only 9.3 million ha (28.2 percent of forest area). Forestland is divided into three types of forest: special use forest (2 million ha), protection forest (6 million ha), and production forest (9.6 million ha). In 1997, 107 special-use forest areas were designated by the government, including:

Four critical protected watershed areas have also been established by provincial authorities. In addition, the government has planned to set aside 39 areas as water-catchment areas. A total of 9.6 million ha planned as production forest (including natural forest, plantations and land without forest) was divided and distributed for management.

The Role of Farm Households in the Process of Forest Management

Allocation of land and forests to households

Since 1986, the government has initiated a policy of allocating land and forests to households in order to facilitate the development of mountainous regions. While Doi Moi has had remarkable success in transforming both national and local-level economies, ethnic people living in the highlands of Viet Nam have not benefited greatly due to poor infrastructure, mountainous terrain, cultural and linguistic differences among the ethnic population, and limited market development and resource opportunities. Recognizing this, the government has developed a number of programs to help rectify the situation. One major component has been the change from collective agricultural production to household-based production. Local-level forest management has primarily mirrored the agriculture land allocation process under various arrangements which allocate forestland to households.

This is viewed as the first step in alleviating poverty for people living in mountainous areas. However, the program is still small in scale and policies have not been completely clarified. Since 1986, numerous policies, directives and regulations have been developed to implement forest allocation (see Table 1). The Law on Protection and Development of Forests (1991), in combination with the Land Law (1993), reaffirms the legality of long-term allocation of land and forests to households and individuals for agricultural purposes and forest production. This promotes effective management, development and exploitation of forestland, and provides households and individuals with greater choice and autonomy. The central mechanism of the Land Law is allocation of land-use rights to individual households or organizations, which may be state or private, but not foreign. Land allocated for one purpose may not be used for another. Forestland is for "silviculture production" which includes natural and planted forests as well as nurseries. Land-use rights allocated to households or individuals may be exchanged, transferred, leased, inherited or mortgaged. If land is used for another purpose, or other obligations are not met, it may be recovered by the State.

The Law on Forests established the basic principles for management of wood and non-wood forest resources, including wildlife. It specifies the criteria of forestland allocation and forest users' rights and obligations, as well as assigns administrative responsibilities and defines offenses and penalties.

Table 1: Main Policies relating to decentralized forest management in Viet Nam


Decision No. 1171/QD dated 30 December 1986 on management regimes of production, protection and special-use forests


Decision 72-HDNT dated 13 March 1990 on socio-economic development in the uplands


Law on Forest Protection and Development


Instruction No. 69-CT on the establishment of socio-economic development programs in the uplands of the northern provinces


Instruction No. 327-CT on barren land development


Decree No. 11-CP on the organization, functions, responsibilities, and rights of the National Committee on Ethnic and Mountain Areas Issues


Law on land use management


Order no. 525-TTG on measures for the continuation of the socio-economic development of the uplands


Decree 02/CP on forestland allocation for forestry purposes


Decision No.202/TTg on contractual forest management and reforestation


Decree No. 1-CP on contractual allocation of land to the state enterprises for agriculture, forestry and aquaculture


Decision 245/TTg on state management of forests (with recognition of the role of communes)

In 1998, 7.7 million ha of forestland (43.8 percent of the total forest area) have been allocated to various users, including:

State forest enterprises, companies and management boards of protected and special-use forests have contracted the allocated forestland under long-term, stable tenurial arrangements for forestry purposes to households and individuals. Forest protection units and forest enterprise divisions have allocated to households either barren land, which they can plant with long-term agroforestry crops, or existing forestland which households are supposed to protect on an annual basis (previously called the 327 program but now called the "5-Million Hectare Reforestation Program"). Farmers can be allocated the following types of land:

Special-use forest: Special-use forest management boards directly manage, protect and develop forests. Contracts are made on a long-term basis (usually 50 years) with households in ecological restoration and administrative sub-areas for afforestation and protection. Households are entitled to collect dead wood for their own use provided that they do not damage the integrity of the forest ecosystem.

Protection forest: Protection forest management boards make contracts with households, communities, individuals or organizations to protect and regenerate forestland. Contracted persons have to meet all provisions under the contract. In return, they enjoy the following benefits:

Production forest: Currently, all state forest enterprises have contracted land to households, individuals and organizations to protect forests located close to communities. Contracted households receive funds for forest protection and are obliged to protect the area for regeneration. Most of the forest enterprises apply the following contract types for planting in production forest areas:

Achievements in the forestland allocation process

It is recommended to further support the implementation of long-term forestland allocation contracts. Support from local authorities to household forestry, particularly from village and hamlet authorities, is the most effective form of forest management. Since the introduction of the forestland allocation process, there have been a number of achievements.

Existing Problems

While there has been much progress in forestland allocation, several problems still exist:

Measures and Policies in Support of Participation

While much has been achieved in decentralizing forest management in Viet Nam, there are still several issues that need to be clarified. Some of the suggestions to strengthen forestland allocation and contracts for forest protection and development, include:

State support for planting in production forests

The State should play a catalytic role in supporting household forestry by mobilizing people and resources and by providing favorable legal environment. In addition, the State should also assist in transferring appropriate technology and developing market opportunities for participating households. The State should equally develop incentives to harvest forest products and guarantee benefits for people who are involved in forest plantation management.


Since introduction of Doi Moi in 1986, the Government of Viet Nam has actively sought to transform the forestry sector through the forestland allocation process. The process is still evolving, but it is evident that if greater success it to be achieved more choice and autonomy will need to be given to households and communities who are responsible for protecting and managing forestland in Viet Nam.


Cai, H.H. 1999. Why Social Forestry in Viet Nam? A Trainer's Perspective. Social Forestry Training Network in Viet Nam. No 1, October 1999. Social Forestry Support Program. Helvetas. Hanoi.

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