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National forests under threat from development, expansion

Update: September, 06/2012 - 08:43

Nguyen Ba Ngai, Deputy Director of the Viet Nam Forestry Administration, spoke to Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam (Viet Nam Economic Times) about the challenges of tackling forest land.

What are the main reasons for the current shrinking of natural forest areas?

One is the increasing conversion of forest land for economic development projects such as hydroelectricity plants, roads or for agricultural production. Over the last two years, for example, we lost around 100,000ha of forest land to rubber plantations. Other pressures come from population growth and the traditional demand for natural forest products. Apart from these main factors, the decrease of forest area could be put down to weak management from forest owners and the slash-and-burn practices of local people.

De-forestation has reached alarming levels, what are the solutions to this critical problem?

We need to consider applying a market-based mechanism to the forestry sector as it would help forest products stay competitive with other sectors, particularly agriculture.

A classic example is timber prices. They have been subject to wide fluctuations as the product goes through several intermediaries before reaching end-users, so we need to shorten the supply chain. We should also try to add value to the products. Instead of exporting raw materials such as wood chips, we should aim to export processed timber products. Furthermore, we need to simplify the distribution network to gain a better understanding of the market. Implementing these measures would drive efficiency into the forestry sector and encourage people to actively engage in conservation and develoment.

It's been suggested that the core of deforestation is the illegal timber trade in the ASEAN region. What do you think?

This issue was high on the agenda at the ASEAN Forestry meeting in June in Ha Noi. All of the ASEAN governments agreed to curb the illegal timber trade but some countries are prepared to go further than others. Viet Nam made clear our measures to fight the illegal timber trade but in Laos, the central authorities are very supportive the local authorities are not. Some districts are even encouraging companies to invest in converting forest land for commercial use.

Which policies are key to protecting forest land?

We should focus on two main groups of policies to minimise forest land lost. To tackle the illegal deforestation, we should implement fines and even look to prosecute serious cases of abuse, while at the same time offering economic incentives for conservation.

It is also important to define the legal rights of the forest owners as this will give them a platform from which they can take a stand and protect their land.

From an economic perspective, we need to regulate the pricing of forest products to ensure that producers, buyers and sellers all get a fair deal.

In the long run, we should offer incentives to attract investment into the processing industry, further ensuring profitability and productivity for the growers, as well as better working rights.

Why can't we simply designate a set area of forest land to be maintained, similar to policies protecting cultivation land?

We set a target to keep 3.8 million hectares of cultivation land, but it's a very daunting task. Of course we want to come up with a specific figure for ring-fencing forest land, but so far we've been unable to identify an exact figure. — VNS

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