Esteemed Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, I would like to welcome all esteemed guests and participants who have converged at this international conference on sustainable forest management for the sake of poverty reduction, an important event held in Ho Chí Minh City, one of the biggest centers that is providing services on processing, marketing and exporting agro-forest products and, thus, contributing to poverty reduction in Viet Nam.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since the mid-eighties of the last century, Viet Nam started the renewal "Doi Moi ". Under this innovative policy, economic transformation has generated vigorous progress in poverty reduction. The renewal has also enabled Viet Nam to integrate into various international initiatives and processes toward sustainable forest management, nature conservation and sustainable development in general. Numerous environment-related legal acts and national environmental programs/plans, such as the Law on Forest Protection and Development 1991 and 2004, the Land Law 1993 and 2003, Environment Law 1994 and 2005, the National Strategy on Comprehensive Growth and Poverty Reduction, the Agenda XXI of Viet Nam, the National Action Program on Combating Desertification etc. were launched during 1990-2000. These major efforts to protect the environment in association with poverty reduction have demonstrated Viet Nam’s continuous determination to protect land, water and forest as the most valuable natural assets that can contribute to improve peoples’ livelihoods, mitigate natural disasters and control land degradation. Further, in 1990-2006, Viet Nam has reconfirmed its commitment to pursue environment protection and poverty reduction by putting its signature to a large number of international conventions and agreements on these crucial issues.
Economic growth, as an important factor, can boost exports. The renewal policy has revitalized private-sector development and fostered economic liberalization. The promotion of a rural credit system has further encouraged private sector to undertake various initiatives and attracted long-term investments into agriculture and forestry.
According to the statistical data provided by the natural resource and environment sector, at present, the land designated to forestry accounts for 14,7 million ha (the total forestry land is planned to be expanded to 16.2 ha by 2010), including 12.3 ha of forested land. The remainder is currently maintained for natural rehabilitation of forest. Vast areas of forestry land are found in the Northern midlands and mountains (36 %), and the North-central (21%) and Central Highlands (21%).
In Viet Nam, the number of people who live inside or in the vicinity of forest is estimated at 24-25 million, 3 million of which are customarily shifting cultivators (slash-and-burn cropping). The livelihood of these people is still heavily dependent on forest as they are encroaching on forest land for cropping or collecting Non Timber Forest Products to make a living. Poverty and famine prevailing in extensive forestry-designated areas is, among others, a major cause leading to deforestation and deterioration of environment. Although several hunger-eradication and poverty-reduction programs have been implemented in the last decades, and famine and poverty has been significantly reduced, the rate of the poor remains rather high, especially amongst ethnic minorities and in remote areas, where the opportunity for income diversification appears few and far between. Though economic growth has substantially contributed to poverty reduction, there are still many segments of the population who do not benefit from forestry development programs/policies and farm-based economy. Famine and poverty prevails mainly in mountain and remote rural areas due to the higher natural population growth rate, lack of infrastructure as well as the scarcity of employment opportunities. Giving priority to hunger eradication and poverty reduction programs along with comprehensive rural development, therefore, proves to be an indispensable policy that has been persistently followed by the Party and the Government of Viet Nam to wipe out poverty, promote sustainable economic growth and, as a result, improve forest management and environmental protection.
Thanks to the great efforts of the enterprises, the forest product processing has achieved very promising results. During the last three years, there is a significant growth in export value, from US$ 1,000,000 in 2004, to US$ 1,570,000 in 2005, and for this year it is estimated to reach US$ 2,000,000. This makes forest owners and local people living in forest areas very happy and contributes to the poverty reduction process.
We are all aware of the tremendous value of forests in terms of the indispensable services they can provide to the entire society and population, including downstream communities. However, the direct benefit that the forest holders expect to earn is far below what they deserve to have.
In the past, our efforts to ensure proper forest management and proper environment protection relied much on administrative remedies and enforceable countermeasures to eliminate forest devastation rather than the introduction of efficient and innovative mechanisms to bring about more benefit to the people, who are living in or around forest.
Apparently, the income gap between urban and rural people would expand and, consequently, the risk of environment and natural resource depletion would become more severe, if no proper focus of investment is given to agriculture, forestry and integrated rural development. Furthermore, with over 70 % of the population living in rural areas, this risk can hamper and threaten the country's sustainable development down the road.
With deep awareness of these social implications of forests, the revised Law on Forest Protection and Development 2004 and the new National Forestry Development Strategy have placed special emphasis on maximization of the benefit that forest can provide to the people involved in forestry, while maintaining optimal forest services for the public. This guiding principle is expected to be achieved through improved investment in forest science and technology to increase stock and acreage of forest vegetation, yield of both natural and man-made forest, raise wood and non-wood forest products, speed up forestry land allocation to households and communities in upland areas and intensify agro-forestry practice (for example, the 5 million ha reforestation program and numerous internationally funded reforestation and poverty reduction projects), develop infrastructure in the most remote and poorest upland communes (Program 135) and provide direct assistance to the poorer ethnic minority households (Program 134).
With a package of policy tools, including that of forestry development, we do hope that poverty will be diminished faster and the newly defined goal of the Government on poverty reduction will be achieved.
In brief, in Viet Nam forest management in association with poverty reduction is undertaken under the following socio-economic conditions:
The sustainable forest management program has been approved and piloted in all ecological zones of the country. This program offers a good ground for forest-management and poverty-reduction combined initiatives at the national level and calls for further technical and financial assistance from bilateral and multi-lateral donors to reinforce Viet Nam’s efforts in sustainable forest management and, therefore, contribute to regional and global processes toward environment protection and sustainable development.
On this occasion, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to bilateral and multilateral organizations and NGOs for their valuable contribution to the promotion of sustainable forest management in Viet Nam. Our thanks also to those who technically and financially sponsored and co-organized this important event.
I wish you all good health and good success with our conference.
Thank you for your attention.
Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Binh, Director General of Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Viet Nam, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am most privileged to take the floor at this important conference on Managing Forests for Poverty Reduction. First of all, I would like to extend to you all the warm greetings of Dr. Manual Sobral Filho, Executive Director of ITTO, as well as his best wishes for the success of this Conference. I would also like to express our deep gratitude and appreciation to the Government and the people of Viet Nam for their warm hospitality and the nice facilities made available for this important meeting.
Poverty covers a wide range of considerations and perspectives, from the denial to meeting basic human needs, namely food, clothing, shelter, education and health care to the denial of human rights and opportunities. Despite its limitations, income poverty, which refers to limitations to meet the basic needs, might be appropriate for our discussions during this meeting. It is estimated that about 1.2 billion people, or about 20% of the world population live with less than 1US$/day, which has been defined as the poverty line, although this definition does not reflect the whole significance of poverty, as already mentioned. Poverty reduction/alleviation or eradication has been high on the agenda of the international community for quite sometime now, with a peak in 2002 when the UN Millennium Development Goals were stated and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger identified as one of the Goals.
The majority of the poor live in the tropics where forest resources are abundant. Discussing this apparent irony of the coexistence of abundant forest resources and rampant poverty is indeed unavoidable. In spite of the recognition of the importance of poverty reduction, the various debates surrounding it, and of some, but very limited, in number and in size, successful examples of forest management contributing to poverty reduction, some of which will be presented and discussed during this conference, the situation has not dramatically changed.
The question might then be raised whether the problem is tackled from an appropriate angle, whether we are on the right track? Poverty is a complex issue which requires many lines of action. However in connection with forest management, some strategic approaches may offer greater opportunities and few can be mentioned here.
Sustainability is the corner stone of addressing poverty reduction, as any unsustainable result will not solve the problem and may exacerbate the situation.
The economic potential of the forest should be maximized by taking into account all forest resources. Forests can offer many goods and services, including timber, NTFP and ecological services. An integrated approach to forest management, taking into consideration all these resources will offer more opportunities and have a greater impact on poverty reduction.
The world of today is dominated by the free market approach, marked with an increased displacement of funds, goods and human resources. The key word in this context is competitiveness, which requires innovation, technology and trained personnel. Managing forests for poverty reduction will need to take this context into account in building capacity among local communities in order to allow them to be equipped and play an active role in this new environment. Failing to do so will only restrict them to receive only crumbs of the proceeds of forest management. It is particularly essential that improved skills be provided in forest management, product development, production of valued added products, marketing and business management.
For example, NTFP can offer good opportunities for income generation in many countries, but their contribution to poverty reduction is limited because most of them are collected from the wild, their conservation and conditioning for the market is not appropriate and communities involved have limited skills in marketing or in business management. Building local capacity and partnerships in the selection, genetic improvement, and vegetative propagation of NTFP, introducing appropriate technologies in processing and conditioning, and providing training in business management, including marketing, can greatly enhance the contribution of NTFP to poverty reduction.
The local, national and international environments are to be supportive in order to allow the opportunities offered by sustainable forest management to be captured for the benefit of the poor. The poor is often the weakest player at the local and national levels: his/her political power is limited or nonexistent and he/she has therefore limited influence on practices, laws, regulations and the different procedures that affect his/her condition; his/her financial capability is also limited as well as access to education and training. Although improved local organizations such as associations and cooperatives can offset some of these shortcomings, it is essential that national and local authorities create a supportive environment through reforms, in particular regarding access to forest and financial resources, as well as to education and training. It is also imperative that local communities be empowered and their organization strengthened, that negative practices such as corruption be eliminated and good governance established.
The international environment has also to be supportive. First and foremost access to markets has to be facilitated. Subsidies practiced by certain countries continue to detract the free market, as well as the introduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers, thus denying access to forest products produced by the poor. The successful marketing of forest products is essential to make effective the contribution of forest management to poverty reduction/alleviation.
Access to appropriate technologies, in the form of technology transfer through cooperation, is also a critical element. International aid agencies can play a critical role in this domain, as well as in strengthening the organization of poor communities. Unprocessed forest resources have limited impact in terms of employment and income generation.
The international community can also contribute to maximize the economic potential of forest and thereby provide increased opportunities to contribute to poverty reduction. This can be achieved, in particular, in facilitating the payment for environmental services through market and non-market mechanisms.
The establishment of these favorable environments, at local, national and international levels, as well as the active involvement of capacitated and strengthened local communities in forest management will certainly offer greater potential for the contribution of forest management to poverty reduction.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Before I close, I would like, once more, to thank on behalf of ITTO, the Government of Viet Nam for giving us the opportunity to discuss this pressing issue of managing forests for poverty reduction. I also would like to recognize here and value the friendly cooperation that has been established between ITTO, FAO, RECOFTC, SNV and the other partners to assist in the organization of this important conference. I wish you every success in this important conference and sincerely hope that it will make an effective contribution to poverty reduction.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Binh, Director General of Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Viet Nam,
Mr. Chairman, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure for me to be here this morning to offer a few remarks on behalf of the international organizers of this important International Conference on Managing Forests for Poverty Reduction. The international organizers include the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (which I work with), the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), the Regional Community Forestry Training Center, the Tropical Forest Trust, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. In addition, valuable financial support has been provided by the International Tropical Timber Organization and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I think it should be evident to all of you that this conference represents a truly outstanding example of collaboration and partnership, for which I’m personally very grateful.
The origins of this conference go back to discussions several of us had during an FAO-supported workshop nearly two years ago, involving officials from Laos, Myanmar, and Viet Nam, who are working to improve forest harvesting practices in those three countries. Participants in that workshop, which took place in Vientiane, Laos, decided that it was important and timely to highlight to policy makers, development organizations, and field practitioners that forest harvesting can be far more than just large-scale, capital-intensive operations. We wanted to create a forum for showcasing experiences and exploring opportunities for forest harvesting, timber processing, and marketing of wood products that can meaningfully contribute to reducing poverty.
From that small group’s nugget of an idea, we were very pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of support from other organizations for the concept, as well as for this conference in particular.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, for the most of the past 150 years, commercial timber harvesting in Asia (as well as most other parts of the world) has been the domain of governments and private companies—usually big companies, employing gangs of chainsaw-wielding workers, fleets of expensive trucks, and testosterone-charged bulldozers and skidders. When valuable timber was at stake, local people were typically ignored or shut out of the planning and implementing of logging operations. If they were involved at all, it was usually as wage laborers, hired to help harvest the timber wealth, which was quickly hauled or floated away to urban areas—never to be seen again.
In recent years, governments and development organizations have attached great importance to alleviating the plight of the world’s poor, as exemplified by the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals. In the forestry sector, this has led to a raft of initiatives and projects, most often focusing on non-timber forest products and payments for environmental services.
But, in most forested areas, the biggest value and income opportunities come from timber harvesting and wood processing. It’s not really surprising that foresters and forestry have traditionally focused—many would say excessively—on timber production: that’s where the real money from forests lies. So, if we’re truly serious about poverty reduction in rural areas, shouldn’t we be serious about giving poor people rights and access to valuable timber resources?
Hopefully, you’ll have noticed that this conference intends to focus on conscious efforts to manage forests and forest practices explicitly for the benefit of the poor. This implies the need for new ways of looking at forests and forestry compared to the past.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On several occasions recently, I’ve found myself quoting a well-known remark by the former FAO Director of Forest Products, the late Jack Westoby. But, none of these occasions have been quite as appropriate as at the outset of this conference.
Back in 1967, Jack Westoby addressed conferences in India and Portugal on the purpose of forestry. Summarizing his conversations with innumerable foresters, Westoby noted:
"Had I believed implicitly everything they told me, I would have been driven to the conclusion that forestry is about trees. But this, of course, is quite wrong. Forestry is not about trees, it is about people. And it is about trees only insofar as they serve the needs of people."
Forty years ago, when Westoby made those remarks, he was clearly at the forefront of a revolution in forestry philosophy. This revolution has brought about tremendous advances in forestry—leading the profession toward a broader and holistic systems-based approach—including much more consideration of the needs of people living in and near the forests.
But, we still struggle with putting that "forestry-is-about-people" philosophy into practice—especially when it comes to giving local people direct access to valuable resources. In some cases, foresters and others actively work to protect an outdated status quo; there’s fear that people with little formal education or expertise can manage forests sustainably; and, as we all know, there are strong economic incentives for those currently in control to maintain that control. In other cases, even where people have good intentions, a lack of imagination sometimes constrains us from recognizing potential opportunities to alleviate poverty through forestry. In still other instances, existing policies may inadvertently be discriminating against small-scale producers and labor-intensive practices.
Despite all these obstacles, the conventional wisdom that “bigger is always better” in forestry is slowly changing as new technologies (and re-discovered old technologies) for harvesting, transport, and processing are increasingly making small-scale production an economically viable proposition. Combined with these advances in technology, are new trends in marketing and institutional development that offer exciting opportunities for generating income and livelihoods in rural areas.
It’s our intention that this conference provides opportunities to showcase “state-of-the-art” knowledge and recent experiences of small-scale forest operations, labor-intensive management practices and job creation through wood processing. We sincerely hope it will open new pathways for integrating forest management with poverty reduction through national forest programmes and other broad-based processes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The importance of this topic is underscored by the wide range of institutions that have collaborated in organizing this conference. FAO is delighted to join hands with a broad range of national, regional and global organizations in bringing this conference to fruition. I particularly want to acknowledge our local hosts, the Viet Nam Department of Forestry, which has done a fabulous job in organizing the local arrangements.
I also want to highlight the outstanding efforts of the staff of SNV and RECOFTC, who worked very closely with FAO to develop the conference program, identify presenters, and complete the thousands of “behind-the-scenes” tasks required to make the conference a reality.
It’s also been a pleasure to work once again with the International Tropical Timber Organization, the Tropical Forest Trust, WWF, and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs in organizing this conference. Their support and inputs have been vital to ensuring the conference’s success.
For all the international participants—especially those of you who have not been to Viet Nam before—I’m sure that by the end of the week you’ll come to understand why Viet Nam is so famous for its hospitality, and also why this country is advancing so rapidly—including in the field of forestry. The innovation, commitment, and dedication of the Viet Namese people provide a source of inspiration and—in many ways—a role model for forestry development in other countries.
I’m personally very much looking forward to the conference discussions. We have an impressive array of presenters and I’m sure that we’ll all find the discussions stimulating and productive.
Thank you very much.