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Deforestation continues to deplete nation's wealth

Update: January, 12/2015 - 09:16

The destruction of forests remains a major problem for Viet Nam, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Ha Cong Tuan tells Viet Nam Economics Times.

Will you please share with us some lessons the forestry sector learned in 2014?

Our sector focused on restructuring last year, with two main objectives: creating a big change in forestation and increasing forest values for foresters. As a result, achievements gained in 2014, generally speaking, were better than those of the previous year. Forest production value was at VND24 trillion (US$1.12 billion), with the value ratio at more than 7 per cent. In 2014, nearly 220,000ha of concentrated forest was planted – equivalent to 105 per cent of the annual plan and the forest coverage reached 41.5 per cent.

In 2014, about 6.5 million cubic metres of lumber were extracted - an increase of 15.1 per cent compared with 2013. Lumber export turnover, including non-timber products, was $6.3 billion, an increase of 14 per cent from last year.

Forest destruction remained a major problem for the sector, particularly in Tay Nguyen, the Central Highlands. In 2014, some 870ha of forest were illegally cut down - an increase of 7.7 per cent compared with the previous year, and 3,157ha were destroyed by fire - an increase of 173.1 per cent over 2013.

There's only one year left in the five-year forest rehabilitation programme, but just more than 10 per cent of the forest has been rehabilitated. What's your position on the sector's poor performance?

In the last four years, 2,320 projects have been implemented in 55 out of 63 provinces. A key objective of these projects is to rehabilitate more than 76,000ha of forests. In 2013, the National Assembly adopted a resolution and the Prime Minister issued Instruction 02, setting a deadline for the forestry sector to complete the forestry rehabilitation programme by 2015. However, by now I have to concede that the progress has been too slow. By the end of 2014, only 7,191ha of cut down forests have been replanted in 28 out of 55 provinces and cities. In 2014, some 12,000ha of forest land were lost to hydroelectric power plants, but only 2,500ha were replanted.

There are three reasons for the forest replacement being behind schedule.

First, project owners fail to honour their commitment to replacing cut-down trees with new trees.

Secondly, authorities do not have enough awareness about the forest rehabilitation programme. This is coupled with poor law enforcement in some localities.

And finally, some authorities have agreed to accept cash compensation from project owners cutting down trees. The money has been transferred to local forest development production funds, but it has laid idle, not used to replant the lost trees.

Will the five-year forest replanting programme be finished in 2015 ?

I don't think the programme will be finished in 2015. We have asked the Prime Minister to allow us to delay the programme to the end of 2016.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has worked with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and agreed to impose heavy fine to project owners who fail to rehabilitate forests that have been cut down during projects. We will withdraw the operating licenses of enterprises deliberately disobeying the law on forest rehabilitation.

Regarding the 10,000ha of reforestation from hydropower plant projects, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will step up supervision activities to ensure that the project owners plant trees or to pay money to the Fund for Forest Protection and Development in line with Circular 24.

For the 60,000ha from other projects, the Government will review and make final decisions, as most of them are related to infrastructure development, national defence or resettlement programmes.

What are the forestry sector's targets for 2015?

First, we must improve the value productivity of planted forests and production forests. Secondly, we need to sanction and closely monitor activities encroaching on natural forests. Thirdly, we need to transfer small lumber forests to big lumber forests so we can improve wood quality and productivity. As a result, foresters' income will be improved.

And finally, the forest sector hopes to make VND25 trillion ($1.16 billion) from forest products and $6.7 billion in export turnover from non-timber and timber products. We also set a target to increase forest coverage to 42 per cent.

In addition to the four major targets, the sector will also try to increase households' ownership of forests and reduce the forest acreage managed by State forest enterprises and State forest-farm enterprises. At present, Viet Nam has 14 million ha of forests. Most of that land is managed and operated by state-owned enterprises. — VNS

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