The Asia Sustainable Forest Management Network supports the role of communities in protection and sustainable use of the region's natural forests. The Network comprises a small, select coalition of Asian planners, foresters, and scientists from government agencies, universities, and non-government organizations, many of whom have collaborated for years. The solidarity of the Network members is based on a common commitment to exploring alternative management strategies for Asia's disturbed natural forest lands. The emphasis of the Network's research includes the ecology of natural regeneration, the economics of non-timber forest product systems, and the community organizations and institutional arrangements which support participatory management. The lessons stemming from the research aim to inform field implementation procedures, reorient training, and guide policy reform.

For more information about the Network and its publications, please contact:

Center for Southeast Asia Studies
University of California, Berkeley
2223 Fulton Street, Room 617
Berkeley, CA 94720
Tel: (510) 642-3609
Fax: (510) 643-7062

Institute of Environmental
Science for Social Change
1/F, Manila Observatory Bldg. (ESSC)
Loyola Heights, P.O. Box 244
1101 U.P. Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Tel: (63-2) 924-1751
Fax: (63-2) 924-4414


©1998 Asia Forest Network


Front cover photograph: An elder Dzao expert in traditional medicine displays one of the forest tubers that is a key ingredient in many of her prescriptions. Eighty percent of the households in Yen Son village, a buffer community of Ba Vi National Park, gain much of their cash income from ethnomedicine. (photo: Poffenberger)





A collaborative study by the
Asia Forest Network
and the
Forest Inventory and Planning Institute


Vo Tri Chung
Eric Crystal
Nguyen Huy Dzung
Vu Van Dzung
Nguyen Huy Phon
Mark Poffenberger
Thomas Sikor
Peter Walpole


Edited by

Mark Poffenberger


Research Network Report

Number 10 -- January 1998





List of Figures and Boxes





Changing Forest Cover


A History of State-Upland Community Relationships


Adapting National Policies for Upland Contexts







State Forestry


Major Policies


Policy Outcomes


Problems of State Forestry


Household Forestry: The Emergence of a New Model


Major Policy Reforms


Experience from Policy Implementation







Da River Watershed: A Regional Overview


Ethnic Groups and Their Land Use Practices 41

The Hoa Binh Dam


Local Administration


Resource Management in a Tai Village


Tai Land Use Practices


Emerging Forest Management Issues


Resource Management in a H'Mong Village


H'mong Land Use Practices


Emerging Forest Management Issues


Changing Resource Management Roles for Community and Government







Ba Vi National Park: History and Context


Park Administration


Management Zones


Forest Land Allocation Policies and Buffer Zone Development Projects


Ethnomedicine and Forest Management


Dzao Traditional Medicine






Prescriptions and Marketing


Managing and Development













Historical Population and Forest Cover Trends in Vietnam


Changing Forest Cover in Vietnam-1943 to 1992


Map of Vietnam's Uplands & Forested Regions- 1992


Da River Watershed Map


Sketch Map of Chieng Hac Commune, Yen Chau District


Map of Tai Land Use Classification

- Ban Tat Village, Da River, Vietnam


Transect of Tai Land Use Classification

- Ban Tat Village, Da River, Vietnam


Map of H'mong Land Use Classification

- Chi Dai Village, Da River, Vietnam


Transect of H'mong Land Use Classification

- Chi Dai Village, Da River, Vietnam


Ba Vi National Park & Management Zones


Land Use Transect of Ba Vi National Park, Vietnam



The Xompa of Na Phieng


Mrs. Lan, Dzao Herbal Healer




In precolonial times, the uplands of Vietnam were heavily forested and sparsely inhabited by a variety of ethnic groups who settled in the narrow mountain valleys growing irrigated rice or practiced long-rotation rainfed farming at higher elevations. Even remote watersheds were inhabited by diverse hill tribes who had moved into the region from other parts of Southeast Asia and Southern China. Community institutions and regional chiefs defined territorial rights, permitting the establishment of new villages established as the population expanded. Forests lands were valuable resources for hunting and gathering, providing land for new fields and settlements, and for stabilizing the water sources that fed their villages, fish ponds, and rice fields. Ethnic communities controlled forest use through their unique traditional institutions, imposing fees, fines, and other regulatory mechanisms.

Over the past century, the government has gained increasing control over the management of Vietnam's forests. As government ministries and public and private industry have taken a broadening role in resource exploitation and management, traditional forest use systems have eroded. During the 1960's and 1970's, the government intensified efforts to establish new administrative structures and implement national policies in many remote upland regions around the country, accelerating the displacement of indigenous institutions.

Upland resources have been exported to lowland, urban centers to finance economic development, often at the expense of resident people. Population growth in upland provinces is driven both by natural increase and a steady influx of lowland migrants, sometimes exceeding 6 percent annually, and placed intensifying pressure on the mountainous areas leading to progressive forest degradation and ultimately deforestation.

There are many parallels between Vietnam's experiences in forest management and that of other Asian nations, and other countries around the world. At the end of the 20th century, human societies are confronted by the challenge of balancing the roles of government, community, and the private sector in sustainably managing forest ecosystems allowing upland watersheds to perform essential environmental functions while meeting the resource needs of expanding populations.

Part I provides a brief history of forest management in Vietnam, followed by an assessment of the sociopolitical and demographic forces that are the underlying causes of deforestation. Part II examines changes in national forest policies, focusing on the transition from state control to household management. The success of emerging privatization policies and programs in stimulating increased timber productivity in some lowland and midland regions is contrasted with the difficulties encountered when such projects are implemented in upland contexts, especially where communal forest management traditions persist. Part III describes how Tai and H'Mong communities in Yen Chau District in the Da River watershed of Northwest Vietnam use their forest resources and discusses some of the forest management issues villagers face as demographic pressures build and policies change. Part IV reviews how one Dzao village was resettled in a buffer area, bounding on Ba Vi National Park near Hanoi, and how villagers continue to depend on the forest for their livelihoods. Both case studies illustrate ways community forest use practices are supported by and are in conflict with emerging policies. Part V synthesizes the information presented in this monograph and suggests how community forest management policies and programs could be strengthened in the uplands and made more responsive to local cultures and indigenous management systems.

The Asia Forest Network (AFN) seeks to synthesize learning from academic research and development activities to illuminate both the underlying causes of and potential solutions to the problem of deforestation. Over the past five years, the AFN has published a series of country reviews that describe the state of community involvement in forest management in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India. Each case examines the history of forest management and evolving forest policies, and presents case studies illustrating contemporary strategies and emerging issues. This fifth country case study examines the changing direction of Vietnam's national forest policies and how they are affecting forest dependent communities.

Over the past five years Asia Forest Network and the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute have been supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We are most grateful to the Foundation for this opportunity to collaborate, with special thanks to Dr. Kuswata Kartawinata. We thank the East West Center's Program on the Environment for their administrative assistance, especially Jeff Fox and Meg White. The Asia Forest Network would also like to appreciatively acknowledge the core support it received from the Wallace Global Fund and USAID's Global Bureau.

Many individuals have contributed to the development of this report. The commitment of Dr. Nguyen Huy Phon, Deputy Director of the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute, to Vietnam's participation in the Asia Forest Network has encouraged this work throughout its gestation. FIPI field staff frequently left their families for extended periods to conduct field trips with AFN colleagues. We are also grateful for the guidance we received from Jeff Fox, John Ambler, Mike Benge, Alex Moad, and Jerker Thurnberg. We are indebted to Neil Jamieson for his past advice and his careful reading and thoughtful comments on this manuscript.

This AFN study substantially benefited from the pioneering research and publications of the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES) and the East-West Center. We are grateful to Le Trong Cuc, Terry Rambo, and other members of that fruitful collaboration for their contributions to our thinking. The AFN team also gained many insights from discussions with Paul Van Der Poel and Guenter Meyer of the Social Forestry Development Project Song Da (SFDP), and we are indebted to them for sharing their experiences and knowledge with us.

We would like to thank Kevin Kolb and the cartographers of FIPI and to Peter Walpole's staff at ESE for developing the maps and transects presented in this report. We are appreciative of the work of Kathryn Smith-Hansen in developing the manuscript, Gary Mcdonald for his careful editing, and Magdalene Khoo for her artful layout. Finally, our thanks to Jack vander Brulle and Apollo Press for printing this monograph.

Mark Poffenberger



Armitage, Ian. 1990.

Management of Natural Forests. Technical Report No. 7, Forestry Sector Review, Tropical Forestry Action Programme. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Associate for Research and Environmental Aid Ltd. 1993.

Ba Vi National Park Management Plan. Hanoi.

Bergeret, Pascal. 1995.

"Land Policy in Vietnam." Vietnamese Studies. 45 (1): 31-45.

Chu Huu Quy. 1995.

"Overview of Highland Development in Vietnam: General Characteristics, Socioeconomic Situation, and Development Challenges," in The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam. A. T. Rambo, Robert R. Reed, Le Trong Cuc, and Michael R. DiGregorio, eds. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

Cuc, Le Trong, Kathleen Gillogly, A. Terry Rambo, eds. 1990.

Agroecosystems of the Midlands of Northern Vietnam. Paper no. 12. Occasional Papers of the East-West Environment and Policy Institute. Honolulu: HI: East-West Center.

Dang Nghiem Van, Chu Thai Son, Luu Hung, 1993.

Ethnic Minorities in Vietnam. Hanoi: The GIOI Publishers.

Do Dinh Sam. 1992.

National Background Paper on Shifting Agriculture in Vietnam. Paper presented at workshop on "Shifting Agriculture in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam: Its Social, Economic, and Environmental Values Relative to Alternative Land Uses." Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme (ESMAP). 1993.

Vietnam: Rural and Household Energy Issues and Options. Washington, DC: World Bank.

England, Sarah B. and Daniel M. Kammen. 1993.

"Energy Resources and Development in Vietnam." Annual Review of Energy and Environment. 18:137-1367.

Fagerstroem, Minh H. 1995.

Evaluation of Land Allocution in Tu Ne and in PA Co - Hang Kia Communes in Hoa Binh Province, Vietnam. Renovation of Strategies for Forestry Development. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Feeney, Griffith and Xenos, Peter. 1992.

"The Demographic Situation in Vietnam: Past, Present, and Future." Population Series No. 289. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

Filipchuk, Andrey. 1990.

"Report on Forest Resource Assessment." Report. Forestry Sector Review. Tropical Forestry Action Program. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 1993.

Vietnam: Watershed Management and Ethnic Minorities. Main Report. TSS-1 Technical Support Services at Program Level, VIE/92/TO3. Rome, Italy: FAO.

Gillogly, Kathleen A. and Nghiem Phuong Tuyen. 1992.

Cao Lan Culture and Biodiversity in Historical Context: Environmental Change Among an Ethnic Minority of the Midlands of Northern Vietnam. Working Paper No. 3. Indochina Initiative Working Paper Series. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Global Environment Facility Project. 1994.

"Biodiversity Action Plan for Vietnam." Hanoi.

Hayami, Yujiro. 1994.

"Strategies for the Reform of Land Policy Relations," in Agricultural Policy Analysis for Transition to a Market-Oriented Economy in Vietnam. FAO Economic and Social Development Paper. Randolph Barker, ed. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Hiebert, Murray. 1992.

"Dynamics of Despair: Poverty Condemns Minorities to Margins of Society." Fur Eastern Economic Review. 26-30.

Hutterer, Karl Leopold. 1983.

The Natural and Cultural History of Southeast Asian Agriculture: Ecological and Evolutionary Considerations. East-West Environment and Policy Institute, Reprint no. 66. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). 1995.

Preparation Report: Grassroots Rural Finance Project. Rome, Italy: IFAD.

Jamieson, Neil. 1992.

The Challenges of Vietnamís Reconstruction. Fairfax, Virginia: The Indochina Institute.

Le Trong Cuc, Kathleen Gillogly, and A. T. Rambo, editors. 1990.

Agroecosystems of the Midlands of Northern Vietnam: A Report on a Preliminary Human Ecology Field Study of Three Districts in Vinh Phu Province. Occasional Papers of the Program on Environment, No. 12 Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

Lang, Chris R. 1996.

"Problems in the Making: A Critique of Vietnamís Tropical Forestry Action Plan," in Environmental Change in Southeast Asia. Michael J. G. Parnwell and Raymond Bryant, eds. London and New York: Routledge.

Le Trong Cuc, A. T. Rambo, Keith Fahrney, Tran Duc Vien, Jeff Romm, and Dang Thi Sy, editors. 1996.

Red Books, Green Hills: Economic Reform and Restoration Ecology in the Midlands of Northern Vietnam. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

Ministry of Forestry (MOF).

1991a. Vietnam Forestry Sector Review and Tropical Forestry Action Programme. Main Report. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

1991b. 30 Years Construction and Development of the Forestry 1961-1990. Hanoi: Statistical Publishing House.

1993a. Methods and Solutions Proposed for Solving Critical Problems in Forestry Raised by the Fifth Session of the Party Central Committee. Report. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

1993b. Vietnam Forestry. Hanoi: Agricultural Publishing House.

1995. Report on Activities in 1993 and the Overall Activities for 1994 of the Ministry of Forestry. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Nguyen Duy Khiem and Paul Van der Poel. 1993.

Land Use in the Song Da Watershed (North- West of Vietnam). Social Forestry Development Project Baseline Study No. 2. Hanoi.

Nguyen Quang Ha. 1993.

Renovation of Strategies for Forestry Development Until the Year 2000. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Nguyen Tu Siem. 1994.

Remarks on Farmersí Solutions for Land Use Continuum in Some Areas Where Land Has Been Allocated. Paper presented at Conference on Sustainable Land Use. Thai Nguyen City. Vietnam.

Ohlsson, Bo. 1990.

"Forestry and Rural Development." Technical Report No. 2, Forestry Sector Review. Tropical Forestry Action Programme ed. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Ohlsson, Bo and Neil Byron. Undated.

Forestry in the Context of Rural Development: Cases From Vietnam. Canberra: Centre for Forestry in Rural Development, Australian National University.

Pham Thanh Thuy and Pham Thi Tuyet. 1995.

"Forestry Projects Up to Century End." Vietnam Courier 100:3.

Poffenberger, Mark, ed. 1996.

Linking Government with Community Resource Management. Research Network Report 9. Berkeley, CA: Asia Forest Network.

Rake, Chrisitan, Gunther Meyer, Luong Van Tien, Nguyen Quang Long, Vu Dinh Quang, Nguyen Viet Tuc, Do Cong An. 1993.

Markets of Important Forest Products, Non Timber Forest Products and Agricultural Products in the Provinces Hoa Binh, Son La and Lai Chau in the North West of Vietnam. Baseline Study no.4. Social Forestry Development Project Song Da (SFDP). Hanoi.

Rambo, A. Terry et al., eds. 1995.

The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

Romm, Jeff. 1993.

"Sustainable Forestry, an Adaptive Social Process," in Defining Sustainable Forestry. G. Aplet, N. Johnson, J. Olson, and V.A. Sample, eds. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Romm, Jeff and Dang Thi Sy. 1996.

"The Impacts of Economic Liberalization on The People and Environment of Lap Thach District," in Red Books, Green Hills: Economic Reform and Restoration Ecology in the Midlands of Northern Vietnam. Le Trong Cuc. A. T. Rambo, Keith Fahrney, Jeff Romm, and Dang Thi Sy, eds. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

Sargent, Caroline. 1991.

"Land Use Issues." Technical Report No. 1, Forestry Sector Review, Tropical Forestry Action Programme ed. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Sharma, Prem N. 1990.

"Review of Present Status in Watershed Management and Future Needs for Immediate Action in Vietnam." Field Document No. 1, Forestry Sector Review. Tropical Forestry Action Programme ed. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Smith, William. 1995.

Implementing the 1993 Land Law: The Impact of Land Allocation on Rural Households in Son La and Ha Tinh Provinces. Hanoi: ActionAid Vietnam.

Smith, William and Tran Thanh Binh. 1994.

The Impact of the 1993 Land Law on Rural Households in the Mai Son District of Son La Province. Hanoi: ActionAid Vietnam.

State Planning Committee (SPC) and General Statistical Office (GSO). 1994.

Vietnam Living Standards Survey 1992-1993. Hanoi.

SRV State Committee for Sciences et al. 1991.

Vietnam National Plan for Environment and Sustainable Development: 1991-2000, Framework for Action. Hanoi: UNDP Project VIE/89/021.

Talbott, Kirk and Lauren Morris. 1993.

"Ethnicity and Environment in the Mountains of Laos and Vietnam." Praxis: The Fletcher School Journal of Development Studies. Vol. X, No. 2.

Thang, Nguyen Van. 1995.

"The Hmong and Dzao Peoples in Vietnam: Impact of Traditional Socioeconomic and Cultural Factors on the Protection and Development of Forest Resources," in The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam. A. Terry Rambo et al., eds. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center.

To Dinh Mai. 1991.

Organizing Individual Households for Forestry Development and Effective Forest Land Use. Paper presented at the Conference on "Land Use in Vietnam." Hoa Binh Town, Vietnam.

Vu Hoai Minh. 1993.

"Economic Realities to Consider in Developing Strategies for Forest Land Use. Renovation of Forestry Strategies. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Vu Van Me, Nguyen Tuong Van, and Hans Warfinge. 1993.

"Land Classification and Land Allocation in Vietnam and in Tu Ne Commune of Tan Lac District, Hoa Binh Province." Renovation of Strategies for Forestry Development. Hanoi: Ministry of Forestry.

Witter, Sophie. 1993.

Working With Ethnic Minorities in Vietnam: An Introduction to the Issues. Program document. Hanoi: Save the Children Fund (UK).

World Bank. 1995.

Vietnam: Environmental Program and Policy Priorities for a Socialist Economy in Transition. Washington, DC: World Bank.

1993. Vietnam: Transition to the Market. Washington, DC.: World Bank

Go back the Table of Contents


Vo Tri Chung is a Senior Expert in Forestry, Ecology, and Ethnography at the Forest Resources and Environment Center (FREC) at the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute (FIPI) in Hanoi. Mr. Chung has conducted research relating to community forestry in Vietnam. He took his undergraduate degree at the Agro-Forestry Academy in Hanoi nad has done postgraduate work in human ecology at the Los Banos campus of the University of the Philippines. Mr. Chung has conducted long-term field work in northwestern Vietnam.

Eric Crystal received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1971. A specialist in highland development issues in Southeast Asia, he has worked extensively in Indonesia and recently in upland Vietnam. From 1984 to the present he has held the position of Coordinator, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, University of California at Berkeley.

Nguyen Huy Dzung received his undergraduate degree in forestry from the National Forest College in Xuan Mai, Vietnam in 1962. Since 1983 he has been Social Forestry Researcher with the Forest Resources and Environment Center. Mr. Dzung is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the National Agricultural Science Institute where he is specializing in aerial residing techniques for re-forestation projects.

Vu Van Dzung is Vice-Director of the Forest Resources and Environment Center. He received his undergraduate degree in biology in 1962 from Hanoi University. Mr. Dzung maintains a long-term interest in biodiversity conservation issues. Prior to assuming his current administrative post he served as Chief botanist with the Institute for Forest Science Research in Hanoi.

Nguyen Huy Phon is Deputy Director of the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). A specialist in land use planning, Dr. Phon recently received his Ph.D. from the National Institute of Agricultural Science (1996) based on the results of his current research on land use planning in forested areas of Vietnam.

Mark Poffenberger is Director of the Asia Forest Network based at the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at the University of California. He has a doctorate in community development from the University of Michigan. Dr. Poffenberger has spent over 30 years designing and guiding community resource management research in Asia. His books include Patterns of Change in the Nepal Himalaya. Keepers of the Forest, and Village Voices, Forest Choices.

Thomas Sikor is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Energy and Resources Group of the University of California at Berkeley. His research interests are in the area of socioeconomic causes and effects of rural resource use. He is currently conducting dissertation field research in Vietnam on the effects of agricultural reform on land use practices in three Black Thai hamlets of Northwestern Vietnam. He has participated in numerous research and consulting projects on rural development and environmental issues in Vietnam for the World Bank and the East-West Center.

Jennifer Sowerwine is a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California at Berkeley. She is researching how economic liberalization and highland development strategies in Northern Vietnam affect minority access to and benefits derived from medicinal plant collection and trade, and the implications these changes have on medicinal plant ecology.

Peter Walpole is the Director of the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSE) based in Manila. He holds degrees in geology and environmental studies and is currently completing a doctorate at Kings College in London, England. Mr. Walpole has spent nearly 20 years in Southeast Asia, facilitating action research programs in the field and assisting planners in shaping social and environmental policies responsive to community needs.

Go back the Table of Contents



Research Network Reports



Sustaining Southeast Asia's Forests, June 1992.


Community Allies: Forest Co-Management in Thailand, August 1993.


Communities and Forest Management in East Kalimantan: Pathway to Environmental Stability, August 1993.


Upland Philippine Communities: Guardians of the Final Forest Frontier, August 1993.


Proceedings of the Policy Dialogue on Natural Forest Regeneration and Community Management, April 1994.


Transitions in Forest Management: Shifting Community Forestry from Project to Process, August 1995


Grassroots Forest Protection: Eastern Indian Experiences, March 1996


Facilitating Collaborative Planning in Hawai'i's Natural Area Reserves, December 1996


Linking Government with Community Resource Management, May 1997

Other Publications

Field Methods Manual, Vol. I. Diagnostic Tools for Supporting Joint Forest Management Systems, 1992.

Field Methods Manual, Vol. II. Community Forest Economy and Use Patterns: Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) Methods in South Gujarat, India, 1992.

Field Methods Manual, Vol III: Manual Geographic Information Systems for Joint Forest Management Inventory, Planning and Monitoring, Forthcoming 1996

Case Study Training Modules Series, Bangkok: Asia Forest Network and RECOFTC, 1995

Village Voices, Forest Choices: Indian Experiences in joint Forest Management, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Go back the Table of Contents