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Reforestation may be life-altering to ethnic people
Sunday,  5/2/2021, 16:28 

Reforestation may be life-altering to ethnic people

By Dao Quang Minh

Ho A Lai in his forest

Given the vast area of forested land still available, Ho A Lai and his peers of Van Kieu ethnic people in Kim Thuy Commune are expecting to expand their initial acreage of forests from 734.32 hectares to about 5,000 hectares. Their wood will be branded with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification within the next five years. To them, this may be a life-changing event.

Ho A Lai, a member of the Van Kieu ethnic minority in Kim Thuy Commune in Quang Binh Province’s Le Thuy District, has recently been awarded with a sustainable forest management certification. The certification, issued by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), is valid from March 26, 2021 to March 25, 2026. Quang Binh’s Le Thuy is also the first district in the province to be granted with an FSC certification in line with the household management model.

Mr. Lai is one among more than 100 first forest owners who registered for the participation in the above model in the hope that the reforestation in line with FSC standards may help them earn better income. Mr. Lai’s Kim Thuy can boast a strength in reforestation as forested land accounts for a third of the commune’s total acreage. Despite the great potential in forestry, until 2019, poverty remained rampant in the commune where up to 46% of its households were still poor, according to statistics released by the local communal authorities. In some hamlets with a population of Van Kieu ethnic people, say, Rum Ho Hamlet, the poverty rate was as high as 75%.

In accordance with the FSC sustainable forest management certification, forest owners are encouraged to switch from unsustainable to sustainable cultivation mode via a breakaway from the habit of burning down vegetation following forest exploitation, plowing the top surface of forests, using plant protection chemicals and dumping thrash in the forest, to name but a few.

This process also seeks to request forest owners to strictly protect vulnerable biological habitats, such as brooks, indigenous plants and local wild animals. Also under the protection are historic relics, such as former bomb creates or signs of biodiversity.

In addition, the FSC standards encourage forest owners to build their own plants to manage their forested land, apply work safety measures and exploit forests at an appropriate rate suitable to environmental protection.

In return, these strict regulations mean that FSC-branded wood products are always preferred by wood processors worldwide at prices 15-20% higher than normal prices.

According to statistics obtained from the General Department of Vietnam Customs, despite considerable effects by Covid-19, the country’s export sales of timber and wood products reached US$12.37 billion in 2020, a rise of 16.2% over 2019. As Vietnam’s integration into the global marketplace intensifies, the demand for FSC-certificated wood has become increasingly urgent and is now actually a matter of life and death to enterprises in the woodwork industry, especially after the Voluntary Partnership Agreements/Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan (VPA/FLEGT) has come into effect. Although Vietnam is a country having great potential for forestry development, her wood enterprises are still lacking wood materials and FSC-certified wood products.

Previously, Ho A Lai and his ethnic peers mostly practiced nomadic farming as they burnt out forests to turn them into fields for some time. After several years when the fertile top soil had gone, they let the fields untouched for a few years so that the land could recover to a certain extent before they came back. Over the past several years, nomadic farming has been terminated as a result of the State’s more stringent forest management. At the same time, as many Van Kiet ethnic people have sold their forested land to others, they no longer have enough land for the practice of nomadic farming.

A reforested land of acacia trees in Le Thuy commune, Quang Binh Province

Since a decade ago, locals have begun to grow hybrid acacia trees, focusing on some areas, to sell them to be used as pulp in the paper production industry. Hybrid acacia trees are often planted with extremely heavy density, from 4,000 to 5,000 trees per hectare, without trimming. After four years of growth, acacia trees can be exploited. This cycle may be shortened if their growers are in need of money. However, no trimming and heavy density will force the trees to grow slowly and decrease productivity because they lack space and nutrition.

Exploitation only four years after being grown will also reduce commercial viability of the trees because this is the time they begin to accelerate growth, their wood remains immature, and their diameters are small and their weight is not great. Experience gained from many localities nationwide shows that acacia trees of six to eight years old would produce a weight double or thrice as much as four-year-old trees would. Such mature trees could then be sold for making timber, logs, or wood used in construction or wood materials for furniture, not for pulp. Consequently, its commercial value may be twice or thrice as much.

In spite of the bigger economic benefit, Van Kieu ethnic minority groups have never done away with this way of hybrid acacia tree cultivation. They have stayed faithful to their habit of early exploitation for fear that storms may wipe away their trees. Otherwise, they are desperately in need of money or have no relations with buyers of FSC-brand wood. Nor do they have support in compiling files and expenses for the certification process.

Those Van Kieu ethnic people groups stood a chance when they were assisted by a non-governmental project which gave them initial technical and financial support for the certification. This support has also allowed forest owners to set up their own association that represents them to receive the necessary certification and work with enterprises and State agencies in paperwork and product consumption.

Given the vast area of forest land still available, Ho A Lai and his ethnic peers in Kim Thuy Commune are expecting to expand their initial acreage of forests from 734.32 hectares to about 5,000 hectares whose wood will be branded with FSC certification within the next five years. 

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