Conserving Biodiversity, Respecting Rights, Alleviating Poverty: Supporting Sustainable Use of Forests by the Van Kieu Ethnic Minority People in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam

Project location: VIETNAM, Quang Tri
Project start date: June 2012 - Project end date: September 2013
Project number: 2012-074
Beneficiary: Birdlife International


BirdLife International became one of the first international conservation NGOs to work in Vietnam in 1988. In 1997, BirdLife International was granted a representative office license in Vietnam by the Government of Vietnam. BirdLife has been working in Quang Tri province (where the proposed project is located) since 1998 when BirdLife together with the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute assessed the feasibility of upgrading Dakrong Watershed Protection Forest in Quang Tri to nature reserve status - the first protected area in the province, which was finally gazetted in 2001. In 2009, BirdLife again facilitated the establishment of the 2nd nature reserve in the province namely Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserve. BirdLife has implemented a series of small projects to promote grassroots support for sustainable natural resource use in the areas around Dakrong and Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserves, and has been exploring solutions that could deliver both poverty alleviation and conservation benefits: the Van Kieu indigenous people are living at both sites, and as described below there are high levels of dependence on forest resources as well as very high levels of poverty within these communities.

A focus for BirdLife's Vietnam programme is to empower local, community-based organisations so that they are able to conserve and sustainably manage their local resources and biodiversity in order to meet their self-defined livelihoods objectives. In the project area such ‘Local Conservation Groups' (LCGs - here taken to refer to any local, community-based organization which BirdLife is working with to deliver objectives of biodiversity conservation) are taking action to address locally identified conservation issues, including monitoring of threats to biodiversity and awareness-raising for local community members on sustainable natural resource use. BirdLife has also assisted local communities to develop rattan nursery gardens, plant rattan under the forest canopy and produce handicrafts from forest materials. Most recently BirdLife has received funding from the Toyota Foundation (Jan 2012-June 2013) to promote stewardship of forest resources by local communities, mainly by forest rehabilitation and enrichment planting.

Following consultation with the communities and local government partners, BirdLife is now seeking support to help the Van Kieu Indigenous People that live around the forest reserves to get secure legal rights to an area of forest in accordance with legal provisions in Vietnam, and to support the Van Kieu in their aspiration to develop sustainable, forest-based livelihoods. This will embrace the intention of the Van Kieu to live in harmony with nature, particularly the adjacent Dakrong and Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserves, and maintain their cultural identity, while improving their livelihoods. The project will also conserve global biodiversity by reducing the main human pressures that threaten these two globally important nature reserves.

Recent studies show that even though forested and mountainous areas in Vietnam are considered rich in natural resources, they are some of the country's poorest regions. Poverty amongst the Van Kieu is marked by lack of agricultural land, illiteracy, lack of rights to harvest forest resources (non-timber forest products) and unsustainable forest resource exploitation.
Quang Tri Province, situated in the Central Annamese Lowlands of north-central Vietnam, is one of the poorest Provinces in the country; it is frequently affected by typhoons and was heavily bombed and sprayed with defoliants during the Vietnam war. Quang Tri has no comparative advantages for economic development in terms of agriculture or industry, other than its location on the trans-Asia East-West Corridor; even this highway poses threats, as well as opportunities, to the environment and indigenous and local people.
The Van Kieu is an ethnic minority people with a total population of only 74,506 or less than 0.09% of the total population of Vietnam, of which 55,079 or 73.9% live in Quang Tri (National Population Census 2009). They are largely residing around two protected areas - Dakrong and Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserves. This group of people are extremely poor and highly dependent on forest resources. In fact, forest is the most valuable asset for them.
Socio-economic data collated by BirdLife have confirmed that the Van Kieu are heavily dependent on forest resources such as wood and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) which they harvest. For example, at Huc Nghi commune (Dakrong District, Quang Tri), in 2010, over 50% of households are classified as poor/hungry, the land available for the staple rice cultivation is only 0.04 ha per capita on average, and the level of dependency on forest resources for household subsistence is high: from 38% to 70% of household income, with 100% of households participating in forest product exploitation for subsistence use and/or for sale.

Surveys also show severe, ongoing depletion of forest resources, caused by over-exploitation (especially by or for outsiders for commercial purposes), disturbance, and increased conversion of forest land into other uses. Local people have to go further into pristine forest to get forest products that once used to be abundant around their living area, and in many cases are only cheap labourers collecting raw materials from "their" forests for outside middlemen. In most accessible areas, hunting and trapping has reduced populations of large and medium-sized mammals and birds to the point of local extinction, resulting in so-called "empty forests". Affected species include the Critically Endangered Edwards's Pheasant, known only from this area of Vietnam and considered to be on the brink of global extinction in the wild; many other threatened bird and mammal species are restricted to the area. Biodiversity is being lost even in the two protected areas - Dakrong and Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserves (see also the section on ‘region where the work will take place' for a description of the area's biodiversity importance).
Forest is therefore the most valuable asset for local and indigenous people, and sustainable management of natural forest resources is critical to alleviating poverty in the Van Kieu community as well as the conservation of the area's unique biodiversity. Furthermore, the Van Kieu have a greater interest in managing the forests sustainably than do the outside groups who currently exploit them.
However, until recently the Van Kieu had no legal rights to manage and use forest resources, but an opportunity now exists to rectify this: according to recent forest laws and policies, forest co-management is being piloted in Vietnam. State owned forest land outside Nature Reserves may now be allocated to local households or communities for management and use - issuance of land certificates helps to formalise land ownership and provides security of tenure which gives people confidence to manage the land sustainably and for the long-term. Communities are also to be given priority (over external businesses) in the issuing of licences to co-manage and benefit from natural resources (NTFPs) harvested from within protected areas.
But there is little national experience from which to draw, practical guidelines on co-management and equitable sharing of benefits from the forests are not available or only at piloting stage, and little forest land has so far been made available for such allocation. As a result, this right to land and resources is not being fully claimed. In addition, the capacity of both local governments and local communities in sustainable natural resource management is very limited, which means that reclaiming rights only is not enough - local communities and people also need to be empowered to exercise their rights. The empowerment process also requires support for the ‘rediscovery' of the importance of natural assets so that community members (especially the younger generation) have a greater understanding of forest carrying capacity and the consequences of environmental degradation. This project will help meet the urgent need for successful working examples of communities managing forest resources and sharing benefits from conservation in order to demonstrate the potential of the co-management approach. Feedback from the project's experience will be highly relevant to the implementation of recent forest laws and policies, and to strategies for the conservation of Vietnam's remarkable globally important biodiversity.

The Nando Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant for this project.
The project will address the problem by the goal that:
Sustainable use of natural resources and equitable benefit sharing contribute to poverty alleviation, indigenous people's wellbeing and biodiversity conservation.

We understand ‘Methodology' to refer to the project's overall strategic approach. The project's strategy is to strengthen the natural asset base, which is essential for the poor Van Kieu people to escape from poverty, through a process which will ensure that forest-dependent communities can:
• identify or "rediscover" their natural assets and have greater understanding of forest carrying capacity and the consequences of environmental degradation
• gain and maintain access to the natural assets (i.e. forest land and its resources) that are their most significant source of wealth
• use those assets more sustainably to improve their livelihoods and ensure benefits to future generations
• contribute to environmental protection and conservation of the world's biodiversity - the ultimate source of wealth of mankind.

The project's approach/methodology will be characterised by:

Partnership. BirdLife will implement the project in close collaboration with its many local partners, including Dakrong and Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserve Management Boards, local authorities of Dakrong and Huong Hoa Districts (and Communes within these Districts) and Quang Tri provincial Forest Protection Department, and the Dariu Foundation Vietnam (which is the country programme of an international NGO specialized in microfinance). Community-level partners will be the various Local Conservation Groups with which BirdLife is working including village organizations (such as women's unions, farmers' associations etc) and village elders.
Empowerment. The project will use provisions within various items of Vietnamese legislation (e.g. the Law on Forest Protection and Development, 2004; Decree 23/2006/ND-CP dated 3/3/2006 on the Implementation of the Law on Forest Protection and Development; Decree 117/2010/ND-CP of 2010 on Special-use Forest Organization and Management; and Decision 57/QD-TTg of 09/01/2012 on Approval of the Forest Protection and Development Plan 2011-2020) to empower local communities through forest land allocation to households, followed by building their capacity (knowledge, skills and opportunities) to lead their own development and effectively exercise their legal rights.
Rights based. Rights to land and resources are recognised globally as being key to effective stewardship and sustainable use. BirdLife and its local partners will facilitate a process through which local community members (indigenous people) identify their rights to manage and use natural resources and advocate for, eventually obtain recognition of, and effectively and responsibly exercise these rights.

The objectives of the project are to:
(i) place the natural resources of the target areas under the stewardship of local communities; and
(ii) put the management of forest resources on a more sustainable footing, providing benefits to local communities and biodiversity conservation.

The project's activities will include the following:
Raising awareness: The project will conduct participatory research to understand more precisely existing patterns of resource use and community entitlements. It will implement a series of culturally appropriate awareness raising events among local communities. Using materials and methods suited to specific audiences it will reach out to the Van Kieu people, to increase awareness of the value of forest assets, the importance of sustainable use, and their legal rights to share in the benefits of sustainable management. Workshops, posters, puppet-shows and radio broadcasts will be amongst the tools used.
Fulfilling rights: The project will facilitate processes which give greater rights and access for the Van Kieu over forest resources. This will include supporting the issuing of land certificates for land outside nature reserves (land allocation), and assisting with negotiated forest product use agreements for these areas. The project will help to secure licences for forest product exploitation by the Van Kieu from within the nature reserves, including by facilitating dialogue between local communities, relevant local authorities and private sector interest groups (the existing, external, business-linked exploiters).
Strengthening institutions: Strong institutions are essentially for the effective management of shared resources. The project will assess the capacity needs of existing organisations and work with key local organisations, provide training, materials and resources, help build management systems and processes, and develop technical skills, to build capacity for sustainable NRM.
Improving livelihoods: The project will support livelihoods based on sustainable use of natural resources from forests inside and outside the nature reserves. Activities will include studies of limits to sustainable harvesting, training on harvesting methods, forest enrichment to increase productivity of valued forest resources, training on product processing to add value to forest products, and micro-finance to support community enterprise.
Dissemination: Experiences and lessons learned from the project will be widely disseminated. Activities will include presentations at workshop and conferences, sharing of experience through national, regional and international networks of which BirdLife is a part, and production of news articles for print, web and broadcast media.
Operational procedures
This project will be implemented through BirdLife's Vietnam Programme, with oversight via the BirdLife International Asia Division (based in Singapore) and support from BirdLife's Communities and Livelihoods Division and Conservation Department (Cambridge, UK). The BirdLife Vietnam Programme will provide a project coordinator based at its offices in Hanoi, as well as an on-site project officer. BirdLife has Finance Officers in Hanoi and Singapore, and has a dedicated Finance Department in Cambridge where its accounts are audited annually. Through these structures BirdLife International will take responsibility for all operational aspects of project management, including:
- technical management and reporting, including day-to-day management of project activities;
- financial management and reporting, including compliance with any specified requirements of the Nando Peretti Foundation (legal, transparency, good governance etc.) and ensuring effective allocation and use of resources;
- communications and sharing of project results (publicity, website, meetings);
- monitoring and evaluation;
- overall supervision and quality control, fundraising and leveraging of resources, and ensuring sustainability.

The project will aim at the following anticipated outcomes (and specific targets/indicators in italics). Additional activities, detailed in the original proposal, will be funded by other donors (funds secured or applied for):
1. The Van Kieu Indigenous People are aware of the value of the forest's natural assets, and understand their rights to share in the benefits of sustainable forest management and the opportunities through which they can claim those rights.
• 300 local stakeholders from Van Kieu communities participate in dialogues and training events that explore and publicise forest assets and management opportunities
2. Forest land allocation for community management and/or protection allows Van Kieu Indigenous People to effectively claim their right to benefit from the natural resources of local forests in and around the Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserve in Quang Tri province.
• A total of 40 ha of forest land allocated to local households for stable use and/or protection.
• Negotiated forest product use agreements approved by local communities, local authorities and the related protected areas authorities.
3. Motivators and innovators within the community have technical skills and resources for sustainable harvesting, improved processing, value maximisation and sale of forest products, leading to enhanced contribution to local livelihoods from forest-based resources.
• 100 Van Kieu people receive training on sustainable extraction of non-timber forest products.
• At least 10 poor households receive investments for rattan enrichment planting in 10 ha of forest suitable for Edwards's Pheasant.
4. Decision-makers, NGOs and other stakeholders in Vietnam and internationally learn from the project's example and apply good practices at other PAs and with other IP communities.
• Lessons learned published and disseminated within Quang Tri province and beyond.
• Project experiences documented and disseminated through at least 2 news stories, magazine articles or workshop presentations reaching international audiences

Multiplier effects
It is expected that the combination of rights recognition, resource planning, institutional strengthening, enterprise development, and livelihoods improvement for poor people at forest reserves will be successful and attractive for further upscaling and for replication in Vietnam and internationally. Within Vietnam, the environmental governance models being developed in Quang Tri are highly innovative, yet strongly supported by the Provincial authorities; this makes them very relevant to problems of rural poverty and natural resource depletion in many areas. BirdLife Partners throughout Asia are working with LCGs and other community-based organisations, providing candidate sites for similar initiatives and for community-to-community sharing and replication. BirdLife's projects and relations with other donors (bilateral agencies, trusts and foundations) provides a route for communication of successful models, while the work of BirdLife Partners with their respective Governments (through participation in various consultation forums) provides opportunities to advocate the project's approach.

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