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Research Report

Poverty Alleviation and Forests in Vietnam

William D. Sunderlin
Huynh Thu Ba
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2005
Pages: 84
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. viii-viii)
    William D. Sunderlin and Huynh Thu Ba
  2. (pp. 1-6)

    This literature review concerns itself with the relationship in contemporary Vietnam between two sets of problems and ambitious national-level initiatives designed to address them. One issue is the persistence of extreme poverty and the program to eliminate it as a top government priority. The other is rapid deforestation and the determination of the government to slow it and restore large areas of forest cover that have been lost in the last half century.

    At first glance, it would appear that these two themes have almost nothing to do with one another. Yet upon closer examination, we realize that not only...

  3. (pp. 7-11)

    In the 1960s, optimistic pronouncements were made by development organizations about the strong potential of using forest resources to assist the process of poverty alleviation in developing countries. It turned out that these predictions and promises went largely unfulfilled and a long period of disillusionment set in.

    At the turn of the millennium, attention to this topic has been renewed. A literature has grown rapidly in recent years focused on examining the potential for forest-based poverty alleviation. Among the key titles are those by: Byron and Arnold (1999); Schmidt et al. (1999); Arnold (2001); FAO and DFID (2001); Gutman (2001);...

  4. (pp. 12-13)

    This review was undertaken recognizing that the topic of poverty alleviation and forests is growing in importance in Vietnam. Policy decisions at the juncture of poverty alleviation and forests in Vietnam, at all levels of government, will depend critically on good information, and this information, in turn, will depend on research, given that almost no research has been done specifically on this subject. At the time of this writing, CIFOR is in the preparatory stages of implementing field research on this topic in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

    We see three specific factors justifying this review:

    1. There has been much written...

  5. (pp. 14-45)

    In this section, we have clustered the literature according to the six FBPA modes described above, believing this is the best way to address the three research questions systematically and clearly.

    Conversion of forests to agriculture—either temporarily as in swidden cultivation, or permanently through sedentary agriculture—has for centuries been one of the main foundations of rural livelihoods in Vietnam. In this section we focus our attention on the slow decay of swidden cultivation in the remote uplands and the gradual turn to other livelihoods, including sedentary agriculture and increased farmer production of cash crops. This transition has been...

  6. (pp. 46-48)

    Recent changes to the Land Law, passed by the National Assembly in October 2003 and to be enacted by decree in mid-2004, will allow the allocation of land (including forest land) to communities, not just to households. This means that larger tracts of land can be allocated to villages and hamlets in remote rural areas. This legal change, along with a new regulation on benefit sharing, will establish the legal basis for community forestry in Vietnam. Community forestry potentially increases the forest resource “pie” at the village level, and benefit sharing potentially increases the share of that larger pie available...

  7. (pp. 49-52)

    We now attempt to address the three key questions posed at the outset with respect to the various modes of forest-based poverty alleviation (FBPA) examined above (see Table 1).

    The following are aggregated answers to the three key questions:

    Clearly, forest resources have played an important role for millions of Vietnamese in assisting the process of poverty alleviation. We know this even in the absence of empirical data because increased per capita income has historically been tied to the transition from hunting and gathering to swidden and sedentary agriculture. This transition has in turn been related to permanent or temporary...

  8. (pp. 53-55)

    Here we list what we believe are some of the most important research questions on forests and poverty alleviation in Vietnam. While by no means an exhaustive list of the research needed, it is one effort to identify useful starting points.

    Does shifting cultivation serve a vital and potentially lasting livelihood support function in certain remote locations? If it does, should it be actively supported and/or defended, and if so, how?

    How can the livelihood benefits from increased agricultural commodity production be stabilized so as to avoid repetition of what happened with coffee? In this regard, what are the implications...

  9. (pp. 56-57)

    This literature review has sought to understand issues at the juncture of two important national priorities in Vietnam: efforts to eradicate poverty in this poor yet gradually prospering country; and efforts to arrest the disappearance and degradation of forests and to reforest massive areas of the countryside. Even though poverty alleviation and forest management have tended to be entirely separate spheres of monitoring, documentation, research, analysis, planning, and policy formulation and implementation, compelling reasons demand that they be brought closer together. The areas of high incidence of poverty and of remaining natural forest cover tend to overlap in the national...