FEATURE: Cultivating high-value species to help secure local livelihoods in Viet Nam & Thailand

17 May 2020

This article briefly highlights some of the achievements of the project on ‘Developing High Valuable Species in Viet Nam & Thailand as a Mechanism for Sustainable Forest Management & Livelihood Improvement for Local Communities’, which was completed in 2018.


Viet Nam and Thailand proposed the project on ‘Developing High Valuable Species in Viet Nam and Thailand as the Mechanism for Sustainable Forest Management and Livelihood Improvement for Local Communities’ under the Agreement on ASEAN-ROK Forest Cooperation (2012 – 2016). The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among Thailand, Viet Nam, Republic of Korea, and the Secretariat for the ASEAN-ROK Forest Cooperation was signed in 2015, and project activities were launched in the second half of 2016. Viet Nam led the coordination of the project as the lead country, with the Research Institute for Forest Ecology and Environment of Viet Nam and the Forest Research and Development Bureau of Thailand as implementing agencies. The project built on the successful experiences on the development of NTFPs in Northwest Viet Nam which positively impacted the livelihoods of communities in Hoa Binh, Son La, Dien Bien, and Lai Chau.

Following a series of extensive field surveys and analysis by the implementing agencies as well as consultations with local communities, two bamboo species in Thailand (Cephalostachyum pergracile in Loei site and Dendrocalamus sericeus in Nan site) and two multipurpose tree species in Viet Nam (Star Anise- Illicium verum in Cao Bang site, and Cinnamon – Cinnamomum cassia in Bac Kan site) were identified as pilot species for the project.

Project sites

The project activities were implemented in the mountainous provinces of Cao Bang and Bac Kan in northern Viet Nam, which are also home to many poor ethnic minorities. Despite its important location and resources, these provinces are among the poorest areas in the country as the main income source stems from the backward cultivation of forestry and agriculture. Government reports have stated that the poverty rates of Cao Bang and Bac Kan well above the national poverty rate. Contrary to expectations, the increase in financial support for the development of forest resources and livelihoods of local communities after the introduction of the logging ban in the 1990s did not help direct significant attention to the development of high-value species. Local people also lack sufficient knowledge, techniques, and skills to cultivate and trade high-value species.

Across the borderland of Thailand, a wide-scale encroachment of market-driven farming pattern has prevailed in most forest land areas. During a monitoring trip, it was observed that most of these farming areas are prone to land erosion. The government of Thailand has been actively pursuing projects on agroforestry development and livelihood improvement in these trans-boundary areas. Nan and Loei are rural and poor provinces, located in the North-east of the country. Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) emerged as the main products of natural forests and the main source of income for local people after the Thai government introduced a logging ban on natural forests in 1989. Nonetheless, much work remains in research on and marketing of NTFPs with high economic value to generate income, reduce dependence on cash crop production, and increase the value of NTFP trade.

Strategic Interventions

Demonstration models were established at the study sites for the purposes of applying new techniques, breeding the selected tree species, offering technical training, and hosting study visits. During the project implementation, the project signed agreements with the local communities and companies, who provided land for the establishment of the models. These local people maintained and protected the models and benefited from the outputs of the models. Local authorities, officials of the forestry extension center, and forest rangers also imparted knowledge and techniques and provided advice on how to maintain and protect the models.

Local communities are at the heart of natural resource management and play a key role in ensuring that conservation efforts contribute towards securing sustainable livelihoods.  Deepening communication and cooperation with stakeholders at the local level could help strengthen the effectiveness of ground efforts. The project focused on the needs of local people and involved participatory approaches to allow local people to make decisions on planting model plans with guidance from the project staff and local authorities. This also helped them develop a sense of ownership for forest resources allotted to them.

Field work highlights – Viet Nam

Technical guidelines and a report on policy and market recommendations were developed to provide information on the methods of development and sustainable management of the two species (Illicium verum and Cinnamomum cassia) in Cao Bang and Bac Kan provinces. Training curricula on how to grow and harvest the two species were also developed to train relevant stakeholders and equip local people with new knowledge and skills. Six training courses were held in Cao Bang and Bac Kan provinces to train some 180 local people and relevant stakeholders on the planting and cultivation of the two species. 120 participants embarked on four field trips to typical models of the high-value species in Lang Son province and Yen Bai province. The dissemination of the training curricula produced by the project is also expected to benefit more forestry officials and local people in the region as well as in other Member Countries in the near future.

To further develop capacities in seedling production, site preparation, planting, tending, harvesting and processing, 2 ha of planting models and 5 ha of tending models of Illicium verum were established in Cao Bang province, while 2 ha of planting models and 4 ha of tending models of Cinnamomum cassia were established in Bac Kan province. After the completion of the project, local people and authorities were put in charge of the management of the demonstration models, which continued to be used for education and training purposes.

The project also helped to increase both the quantity and quality of Cinnamomum cassia and Illicium verum plantations in the two provinces and paved the way dialogues between local people and authorities on enterprise development opportunities and access to markets.

Field work highlights – Thailand

Workshops and training sessions were carried out to impart knowledge on bamboo propagation as well as plantation establishment and management. Local people learned first-hand about how to create and develop products such as bamboo shoots, bamboo furniture, and bamboo charcoal. Meetings between local authorities also helped strengthen networks and deepen communication with local people. Visits to successful bamboo farms helped local people to enhance their understanding of cultivation techniques, the production of other bamboo products as well as the advantages of planting bamboo as compared to other cash crops. These visits have been vital in promoting interest in bamboo farming while helping to awareness on the importance of managing bamboo plantations and forest resources to ensure sustainability in the long run.

The knowledge, techniques and bamboo plantation models transpiring from the project made local people understand the long-term benefits of bamboo farming, thereby encouraging them to reduce reliance on cash crops such as corn and pineapple. Local people were now aware that well-managed bamboo farms could provide them with sufficient raw material to produce various bamboo products all year-round. Bamboo shoots, for instance, were collected on a daily basis from a well-managed bamboo plantation. In Nan province, local officers helped to promote the commune’s bamboo furniture and bamboo shoot products to stakeholders in other provinces, thereby helping to increase access to markets for the local people. With a high local demand for bamboo products such as bamboo chopsticks, bamboo shoots, and bamboo furniture, the production of more raw material and bamboo products is expected to help generate more income and improve local livelihoods.

Lessons learned

There are some limits in expanding the outputs and outcomes of the demonstration models to neighboring areas. Local project managers agreed that the selected high-value species are in demand in not just local markets but also in neighboring Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan. However, to substantially increase yield and reach out to international buyers, farmers need to plant these species in a relatively large area. Thus, in order to ensure project sustainability, it is crucial to take into account the limited plantation area and future steps required to increase productivity.

Many environmentalists consider the planting of high-value tree species as an attractive investment relative to current farming practices. For instance, local communities can harvest corn in a relatively short period of time and sell them to a large company in Thailand, which encourages the expansion of corn farming in areas adjacent to the project sites. It is therefore vital that the developed models of high-value species production can contribute meaningfully to the livelihood of local communities in practice with lower environmental costs (such as soil degradation and erosion).

Aside from providing an alternative source of income to local communities, the three-year project has achieved its primary goal of empowering local communities to develop sustainable sources of income and helped them decrease their dependence on cash crops while promoting sustainable forest management. The selected high-value species, technical guidelines on cultivation and processing, training curricula, demonstration models, and trained human resources resulting from the implementation of the project activities now serve as a foundation for further knowledge and skills dissemination to other regions in AFoCO Member Countries.

Contributed by Emily Marie Lim and Pham Duc Chien

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