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Timber farmers out of the loop

Update: August, 23/2014 - 08:47
Farmers prepare young trees for plantation in Ba To District in the central province of Quang Ngai. Farmers are struggling to get a fair price for their products due to a lack of negotiating power. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Long

HA NOI  (VNS) — Poor and ethnic forest farmers have no say in negotiations to sell their timber because prices are negotiated by dealers, leaving the growers at a disadvantage.

Dr Nguyen Duy Luong, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Central Farmers Association, revealed this at a conference held in Ha Noi yesterday.

A report at the conference, which was organised to launch a project known as the Forest and Farm Facility project in Viet Nam, revealed that during 2006-11, about 16.2 million hectares of forestry land was allotted to 1.25 million households, supposedly creating jobs for 4.65 million workers.

Viet Nam was recently chosen as one of the 10 countries to be supported by the United Nations' to participate in the project.

One third of the families involved in forest farming are poor, mostly from ethnic groups in remote and disadvantaged areas.

Their incomes are created mostly from their involvement in protecting forests and producing forestry-related, farming and acquaculture products.

Luong said the forest farmers' lack of knowledge about the market and business led to them being overlooked in the price negotiation process.

He said they were often taken advantage of by opportunistic dealers.

Jeffrey Campbell, director of the Forest and Farm Facility project, said that forest farmers needed to have a political voice.

He said this could be achieved through the establishment of organisations and associations, or businesses that offered advice to farmers, helped them gain access to the market and built up brands for their products.

Campbell said this would allow them to exchange information and get involved in the supply process. In this way, they could start doing business and creating jobs for others.

Cao Chi Cong, deputy general director of the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry (under the agricultural ministry), said that farmers were not very interested in getting involved in the planting and protection of forests because the benefits were limited.

He said a hectare of forest gave farmers an income of VND30-40 million (US$4,670-1,900) after subtracting expenses, but it took six years for forests to become ready for exploitation.

The financial profits, therefore, were much lower than those collected by planting cassava and sugar cane.

He added that to save the time, farmers sometimes began exploiting the grown forests earlier than usual, after three to four years rather than six to seven.

This meant timber was often not of high quality and sold for low prices, making it difficult to earn a living.

Experts at the conference said they were concerned that the legal regulations on forest management and forest allocation as well as wood exploitation for commercial benefits remained unclear.

They said this also helped make forestry-related activities unattractive to farmers.

Experts also voiced concerns that farmers had limited awareness of the importance of complying with the law about forest protection.

Problems also included farmers accidentally creating fires while cutting down trees, hunting animals illegally and destroying forests to grow other plants for livelihood. — VNS

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