Swedish influence behind the gigantic landscape transition

Sweden was the biggest external donor to Vietnam’s forest sector

For many years Sweden was the biggest external donor to Vietnam’s forest sector and is seen as a trusted partner.

We seem to have influenced the forest sector in many ways, e.g. technically, in silviculture, forest policy and as an institutional model. Around 1990, (by the completion of the Bai Bang project), the previous deforestation trend was reversed through political reforms in land tenure, market economy and large scale reforestation programmes. In the following 20 years the national forest cover increased by 4.4 million ha from 30% to 43% (FAO, 2011). Most of this “transition” was caused by the conversion of low-density secondary natural forest or degraded land into planted forests of fast-growing exotic trees, mainly acacia and pine. Behind the change lay intensified agriculture and demographic changes.

The fibre market is uncertain

For a Swedish forester the Vietnamese development is impressive but it also leads to second thoughts. There has so far been a strong government focus on increasing forest cover, but little consideration of “what for?” The situation has now changed dramatically but there is a lack of consensus and strategy on how the resources should be managed and used. An economic concern is the massive trend of state sponsored forest plantation in areas with limited demand. Forest farmers plant exotic trees as cash crops (they cannot afford to operate for longer without cash return on their investment). The fibre market is uncertain in those areas. There are other important uses (e.g. resin) but many farmers do not earn what they expect or need from their forests.

How to meet future needs?

From an ecological point of view, the continuous loss of biodiversity during depletion of natural forests and later conversion into monoculture plantations on a large scale raises some concerns. Many planted stands and holdings are small and diverse but the total area cover is large. The yield is also very low for those farmers, because of a lack of technical know-how and capital to invest. What is the way forward for them? How can they increase production sustainably without further loss of biodiversity? We may draw parallels to current global trends but also to the historical development in Sweden. Do we have “experience” to contribute or are we the ones to learn?


Text and photo: Mats Sandewall, Dept. Forest Resource Management, SLU