HCM City — Viet Nam's depleting forests, put to the sword by illegal logging, encroachment, mining and hydropower projects as well as bad management, have been struggling of late with yet another threat – the agriculture sector, experts said at a recent conference.
|Workers of Hoanh Bo District's Forestry Company afforest in northern coastal Quang Ninh Province's Son Duong Commune. Experts warn about on-paper forestry land, which causes an increase of disputes over forestry and agriculture land. — VNA/VNS Photo Quang Quyet
"Transgression, disputes and conflicts related to forestry land have significantly increased recently, and agricultural land has invaded (forests)," Dr. Le Duc Thinh of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD) was quoted by the Thoi Bao Kinh Te Viet Nam (Viet Nam Economic Times) newspaper as saying.
At present, two-thirds of Viet Nam is hilly and mountainous area and officially designated forestry land accounts for 57 per cent of the total 26.2 million ha of arable land. Forests are also home to 25 million ethnic minority citizens of the country.
But three million of the 16 million ha of forest land is bare, and this has been rapidly taken over by agricultural and industrial crops like coffee and rubber. Now these crops are encroaching further into forests, which have been disappearing at an alarming pace in the Central Highlands and the north-western region, including the provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien and Son La.
In the past, forest land was managed by State-owned farms, but 256 of these have been converted into 148 limited companies.
However, this conversion has not been accompanied by clear guidelines about the public service and business components of these companies, so forests have been destroyed and misused without remedial actions.
As a result of these moves, the forestry land that State-run farms manage has reduced from 4 million a few years ago to 2.1 million now. Of the difference of 1.9 million ha, around one million was to be given back to localities, but the actual handover was just 585,000 ha, with l.2 million ha being taken over by management boards of national parks. The fate of the remaining 115 ha is not known.
"Forestry land was only transferred on paper. Therefore, disputes over forestry and agricultural land have broken out increasingly and in more complicated ways," said Le Van Bach, deputy head of the policy division of Viet Nam Forestry Administration.
According to official statistics, about 2.6 million ha of forestry land is now being managed by communes, but Dr. Thinh said this was not a good thing.
"Commune level administrations are not the ideal agencies to manage forestry land because they are neither business units nor forest protectors. Communes giving land to local residents without clear boundaries has complicated the situation," he said.
But Dr. Thinh's suggestion for forest land held by State-owned farms to be auctioned off to increase their economic effectiveness has been questioned by other experts who say this would lead to further depletion of the nation's thinning forest coverage.
While the Government has approved the auction policy in principle, it has not been implemented because the forestry land that would fall under the hammer has not been defined, nor has a plan for its subsequent use been formulated.
Experts have also called for policies to benefit forest planters and protectors so that existing forests are preserved and more effective afforestation projects implemented in the future. — VNS