Bamboo is one of the most valuable and important non-timber forest products and one of the most important nature’s substitute for the hardwoods. It is known for the strength of the culms, and their straightness, smoothness, lightness, so it is employed in many industrial sectors such as a construction, furniture, chopsticks, charcoal, textile, and handicrafts.
I am Tran Van Hiep from Vietnam, working on my PhD research since 2014 at the Institute of International Forestry and Forest Products, TU Dresden. My research focuses on the key factors in upgrading small-scale bamboo enterprises (SSBEs) in North Vietnam.
Bamboo and enterprise situation in Vietnam
In Vietnam, the bamboo area is about 1.4 million-hectare, accounting for 15% of the natural forest area, and Vietnam has 216 bamboo species in 25 genera. In 37 provinces are bamboo plantations, which provide about 5.2 million tons per year. Northern provinces have the largest volume with 1.7 million tons. The bamboo sector has created millions of jobs for local poor people at rural and mountainous areas in Vietnam. Additionally, it significantly contributes to economic development with a total export value of
more than 200 million USD per year. However, the bamboo sector in Vietnam has shortcomings, namely poor bamboo plantation management and over exploitation. There are only few enterprises that produce high value products such as flooring and panels. Most of enterprises are small–scale. They produce chopsticks, votive papers, and bamboo handicraft products with an outdated technology, a low productivity, a lack of skilled workers, and a barrier to market access. Furthermore, the bamboo value chain is not well organized. A cooperation between SSBEs and actors in the value chain is weak. This research investigates the key factors that determine the upgrading of SSBEs in two case studies in North Vietnam: Chuong My district, Hanoi, and Thanh Hoa province.
My field work research
From March to July 2017, I collected data on bamboo resource, resources of bamboo enterprises, and cooperation between bamboo enterprises and actors in the bamboo value chain in the mentioned provinces. Bamboo enterprises, collectors, growers, and handicraft households were approached with in- depth interview, group discussion, and observation.
I have received good support by the Vietnam Handicraft Exporters Association (VIETCRAFT) for contacting handicraft households and bamboo enterprisin Chuong My district, HanoiThe bamboo handicraft enterprises were willing to answer my questions. Hence, most information was collected. Thanh Hoa Department of Foreign Affairs contributed to my survey. They not only helped me contacting local staffs and companies but also gave me a lot of valuable advices on working with local people and finding accommodation during my survey. It was a great motivation for me however, the data collection also had many challenges. Interviewing and observing one bamboo enterprise was time intensive and took one to two days. Some SSBEs are very occupied with their business and do not have time for a meeting Company-internal information, namely finance and performance were not fully disclosed. The bamboo growers are very busy with their farming works and usually spend the daily time in their farms. Hence, an interview with the growers often was performed in the early morning or the evening. Furthermore, the case study in Thanh Hoa province is in a mountainous area, so the traveling is a big problem due to poor infrastructure and no public transportation.
Outcome of my study
Results from the survey indicate that plantation bamboo resource has been exploited rapidly because of a high demand in the market. Consequently, the bamboo resource could be exhausted soon. Furthermore, the bamboo plantation management has not been developed well, so the quality of bamboo has dramatically decreased. The rainy season creates many difficulties in transporting the bamboo culms. The bamboo shoot season is considered as a reason for the high prices because harvest is not allowed during this season, and a bamboo supply is limited.
Employees are not well trained, so they lack required work skills. More importantly, the bamboo workers experienced poor working conditions due to a lack of protective clothing and working contracts. In addition, the rapid urbanization reduces the village area. The income from SSBEs is also not high enoug
to attract the workers. As result of the rapid urbanization, the workers quit their traditional jobs to look for new ones with higher income in urban areas.
SSBEs are facing many difficulties in accessing capital from banks because the loan requirements are often complicated. Hence, they have no capital to invest in an advanced technology, and most production is done manually.
All SSBEs located in Chuong My district, Hanoi strongly depend on handicraft households in providing the unfinished craft products. This cooperation provides a flexible time schedule for housework. However, the handicraft bamboo products are not diversified and have outdated designs and styles. Moreover, SSBEs strongly relied on the bamboo collectors in buying the raw material and some middlemen in distributing the products, but the cooperation between them still has many shortcomings. It is noticeable that many SSBEs have not developed their website and marketing activities, so their market access is limited. The domestic market is not the target market, and most craft bamboo products are consumed in the international market.
I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisors Prof. Dr. Pretzsch and Prof. Dr. Darr, and my colleagues at the Institute of International Forestry and Forest Products, who are willing to support me and provide me with the valuable comments during my study. I also greatly appreciate Vietnamese Government and the Graduate Academy of TU Dresden granted me the study in Germany and the travel for the data collection in Vietnam.
By Tran Van Hiep