Lessons from Vietnam

The hills around Bai Bang are now covered with forests

Learn from both successes and failures

There is now much discussion about restoration of degraded forests. Such work has gone on for a long time but has met with many difficulties. This concerns both intensive industrial plantations and small-scale farm forestry. If programmes for restoration are to succeed on a large scale we must try to learn from both successes and failures.

A trial with intensive cultivation on degraded soil

Many argue that the plantations established around the Swedish-supported Bai Bang pulp and paper mill in Vietnam would appear to be a great success. In the early 1980s there was much talk about a coming wood shortage at Bai Bang. The plantations established on good soil in the forest areas were after exploitation often turned into agricultural land, and the plantations established on degraded soil close to the pulp mill were producing very little. More or less in desperation a trial with intensive cultivation of Eucalyptus of the “Brazilian type” was carried out on degraded soil close to Bai Bang. The trial was very successful, considering the circumstances, and a propaganda tree grew. Nine metres in 18 months, for example. The interest in establishing plantations increased dramatically.

The wood is produced by farmers

The bare hills around Bai Bang that looked like a desert in the 1980s are now covered with forests. The first plantations were established by state enterprises and co-operatives, but after the economic reforms in 1986 (Doi Moi) farmers started to plant trees as a commercial crop. Today it is reported that more or less all wood for Bai Bang is directly or indirectly produced by farmers. It is interesting to note that the farmers seem to have adjusted the original “intensive” method to suit their own conditions. The open landscape around Bai Bang has been changed into forest, but in spite of this there is no talk of conflict. Is this because more or less everybody has got something positive out of the plantations and accepts certain negative aspects?

The importance of a reliable market

This sounds like a song of joy, but I fear that there is much we don’t understand in the development. For example, how important is it that Vietnam is a strong one-party state influenced by Confucius? Was the establishment of a reliable market the main reason for the success? How important is it that land was allocated to farmers? Some foresters in Sweden who have worked in Bai Bang have now started a project to see if lessons of general value can be drawn from Bai Bang, see http://www.sifi.se/projekt/erfarenheter-fran-vietnam.

Text: Reidar Persson

Photo: Mats Sandewall