Task Manager (Forest Conservation); Senior Policy Researcher, Natural Resources and Ecosystem Services Area, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES)
Dr. Yamanoshita conducted research at the Japan Overseas Plantation Center for Pulpwood and the non-governmental organisation, BirdLife International. She has been involved in research on reforestation and global warming mitigation, including the development of reforestation carbon reduction projects. She has been with IGES since 2011, and is currently carrying out research on climate change mitigation measures in the area of forests, focusing on the capabilities of local residents.
Vol.3 September 2014
Reconsidering Forest Issues Based on
Field Research in Viet Nam
In the third interview in our series, we talk with Senior Policy Researcher, Makino Yamanoshita, about her field work and research on community-based forest management in rural districts of Viet Nam. She shares with us her insights on the state of forests in Viet Nam and the problems they face, as well as a method of forest management that places importance on the viewpoints of local communities.
---Your field work focuses on rural districts in Viet Nam. Can you tell us some of the challenges faced by these communities in relation to forests?
My research focuses on a mountainous area of the Hòa Bình Province in Northwest Viet Nam, where forests were felled as a result of poverty during and after the Viet Nam War. Repeated slash-and-burn farming following deforestation destroyed the fertility of the soil, thereby preventing forests from naturally recovering and leaving the area a wasteland. Calculated reforestation efforts are required to restore forests to this wasteland. Moreover, the environmental benefits of reforestation, such as restoration of fertile soil and fostering of a watershed, can be expected, as can income from the forest industry. Due to efforts to date based on Viet Nam’s national policy and international cooperation, as well as support activities from the private sector, a great deal of reforestation activities have been carried out. As a result, forested area is on an increasing trend. However, only reforested areas near factories or ports of export where the forestry industry is financially viable are continually maintained over the long-term. In the more inaccessible mountainous areas where I carry out my research, it is not uncommon for forests to return to slash-and-burn farms and wastelands. Typically reforestation projects end when tree-planting work is completed. The reality is that post-project monitoring on how the forests are doing is rarely carried out, but in actuality areas of land that were reforested do not necessarily remain forested area in the future.
For instance, I carried out research in a village of the Muong people, an ethnic minority. There, a reforestation support project by an external agency and under the supervision of experts had been carried out on the slope of a mountain where the land was deteriorated, with the objective of global warming mitigation. Yet, a portion of the area had returned to its former state. I was actually one of the experts involved in this project, and fortunately (?) had the opportunity to view the site following the end of the project. I was extremely shocked. Reforestation is thought to be linked to the mitigation of global warming, and the realisation that our methods are in actuality making insufficient contributions to this effort was what spurred me to begin field work in this village.
---Can you tell us a bit about your field research?Yamanoshita:
To date, my research has focused on revealing what is necessary to create forests that are maintained over the long-term. I began by surveying the perspectives of villagers on why it was difficult to maintain the forest within the reforestation project. I did not interview individuals, nor utilise a questionnaire, but carried out group discussions on land use and livelihood issues with the assistance of my counterpart from Vietnam Forestry University. In order to promote meaningful discussion, we visualised the content of discussion on the spot. We created and shared maps and figures together adopting a community participatory approach to data collection.
Community participatory approach
As a result, it became clear that villagers were utilising the wasteland for their livelihoods more than external experts had realised, and that changes in land use due to reforestation projects had greatly affected the livelihoods of villagers. Even on this deteriorated land, villagers were grazing livestock and collecting firewood from shrubbery. In some cases reforestation had resulted in an inconvenience as villagers had to go farther to perform these tasks. It is possible that these issues were the motivation that led villagers to abandon forest maintenance. Moreover, in this region it is customary to freely graze livestock on vacant land, regardless of land ownership. In some cases, reforested areas were destroyed against the will of the land owner. It is thereby evident that reforestation projects must take the livelihoods of villagers into full consideration from the planning stages. Furthermore, experts should not collect information from villagers to make plans for projects. Rather, it is crucial that participatory approaches be employed whereby experts and villagers together deliberate and draft plans. This process requires more time, but enables discovery of problems and concrete solutions from the perspective of residents. It also allows projects to take advantage of the traditional knowledge and experience of villagers, and to enhance their interest and motivation in regard to forests.
Mountainous area of the Hòa Bình Province in Northwest Viet Nam
This year marks five years since reforestation, and in some places it has begun to look like forest. I conducted research in a village nearby these areas to find out what sort of benefits are being had from the forest. These included ”a cleaner and a more stable supply of drinking water from waterfalls”, ”less landslide from the mountains”, ”cooler breezes from the mountains”, and ”an increase in birds”. Villagers used to be interested in felling trees to sell lumber for income. Since realising the benefits of forests, their viewpoint has begun to change toward thinking it better to manage the forest over the long term and to expand the forest in areas that have withered. In the future, I plan to jointly deliberate with the villagers on management methods that will bring about even more benefits for them, and to support the enactment of this management.
---Please tell us how you plan to put these research outcomes to use.Yamanoshita:
The critical role of forests is recognised in the climate change debate, and various policy and projects are being carried out to promote reforestation and the preservation of natural forests in order to mitigate global warming. Our research indicates that it essential for local people to be involved in central roles in these processes. Without their involvement, forests are not maintained, and the potential to not achieve the expected global warming mitigation effects is a concern. I intend to make inputs into the international environmental policy debate regarding the importance of giving consideration to the perspective of local residents, based on my experience in actual forest management in the field.
---Do you stay in the villages when you are in the field? Have you faced any problems from doing so?Yamanoshita:
Women who are collecting firewood from the mountain
With the young woman of the household
These areas are not tourist sites, and there are no hotels nearby. So, I ask to stay in a village household, and I also am given meals by this household. The households have electricity, and I do not have any special problems. In the evenings, people gather in public spaces to play volleyball, or sometimes there are parties at someone’s house. I enjoy the simple, slow pace of life. There is one thing—when I come to the village I feel as if I am a person who can do nothing. When we eat sugarcane as a snack, I am handed a whole stick of sugarcane. My skills with a hatchet are nowhere near good enough to cut off the skin, so I have to have someone do it for me. Laundry is washed by hand at a watering place outdoors. Once the young woman of the household where I was staying saw my terrible technique at washing and ended up doing my laundry for me. In the village, if the meat of a chicken or a pig is to be eaten, the animal must first be strangled, but I cannot yet fathom doing this. The women of the village awaken at dawn to take care of the livestock, tend to the rice paddies, and collect firewood from the mountain. They work very hard caring for the livestock and at housework. It seems like such hard work, and I very much admire their determination.
--- Thank you very much.