|People plant forest in Hoanh Bo District, northern Quang Ninh Province. Viet Nam has implemented policy on payment for forest services since 2008, through which hydro-plants, water supply companies and environmental tourism using forests have to pay for the services. Those who look after the forest benefit more. — VNA/VNS Photo Quang Quyet
QUANG NAM — Alang Thi Hoa once entered the forest every day to look for firewood to sell. Hoa, from central Quang Nam Province's Ma Cooih Commune, like many other locals, lives close to A Vuong forest.
But instead of collecting fallen branches, Hoa is now paid to protect the forest as an administrator.
She is paid under the Forest Environmental Services policy (PFES) after being allocated 20ha of forest to look after in 2010. The job brings her an average of VND 5.5 million (US$262) per year. As a poor householder, Hoa has also received loans from the forest protection fund financed under the same policy to grow seedlings and plant acacias.
"I and many other households in the commune no longer have to go into the forest to find wood for sale," she said.
Quang Nam has a total of 276,000ha of forest. The PFES policy had helped generate stable jobs and income for local residents while encouraging them to protect and look after the forest, said Huynh Duc, the director of Quang Nam Provincial Fund for Forest Environment Protection Fund
PFES income from hydro-power and water supply plants in the province is about VND50 billion ($2.3 million) each year. Of this, 85 per cent is used to pay local residents for protecting and managing forests.
The scheme has increased financial incentives for forest protection by creating links with the beneficiaries of such services – hydro-power facilities, water supply companies, and eco-tourism operators.
Director of Forest and Wetland Research Institute Nguyen Chi Thanh said while the policy had proved effective, payments were low, failing to match residents' efforts in protecting the forest.
He praised Quang Nam's initiative in allocating forests for groups of households for better management, which created conditions for local residents to discuss forest situation and mechanism-related issues while helping simplify administrative procedure.
During 2011-2015, an average of VND1 trillion ($47.6 million) was collected from forest environment services policy annually throughout the nation.
In the first six months of this year, forest protection and development funds have collected more than VND400 billion ($19 million) from the services. Of this, 60 per cent was used to pay local residents for forest protection.
The funds have enabled 247 contracts to be signed with locals to look after forest environmental services surrounding hydro-power plants, water supply plants and environmental tourism facilities.
The policy has helped reduce the theft of trees, plants, birds and animals from the forests by nearly half. The coverage rate of the scheme is now growing by 0.2 to 0.5 per cent a year.
To create higher income for residents involved in the scheme, the Deputy Director of the Administration's Planning and Finance Department, Pham Hong Luong, said relevant ministries and agencies should review the situation.
He said it was also essential to organise training courses for officials involved to ensure they had sufficient financial and environmental skills to implement policy.
Senior Climate-Change Adviser for USAID in Viet Nam, Rosario Chato Calderon, said PFES was a good example of "green action" reversing the trend towards degradation and deforestation for healthy watersheds and forests.
After the initial pilot phase ended in 2010, 27 out of 63 provinces worked to implement PFES in their areas, she said at a workshop last Tuesday.
"In order for PFES to truly succeed, we need to ensure that investments in natural capital, like watershed services, are delivering the expected results and are enhancing economic and environmental sustainability," she said.
This would require long-term and robust monitoring and evaluation of environmental services as well as efficient and effective administration of PFES, she added.
The policy on payments for forestry services was introduced in 2008. It requires hydro-power plants, water-supply companies, and environmental tourism using the forests to pay for the services. — VNS