In the first two weeks of April, Dr. Simon Benedikter, the research coordinator of the “Forest Landscape Restoration for Improved Livelihoods and Climate Resilience” (FLOURISH) project, went on a trip to Laos and Vietnam. Follow his exciting journey exploring the landscapes and examining the role of bamboo in local livelihoods.
My second mission to the FLOURISH project region commenced with a short stopover in Vientiane (Laos) where I revitalized TUD’s alumna network at the Forest Department of the National University of Laos (NUoL). I met with former Lao MSc and PhD students of TU Dresden and we explored potentials for collaborative research within the project. During our debates it revealed that studying Lao’s teak processing industry will be critical on the pathway towards building private sector-community partnerships for forest landscape restoration. Hence, TU Dresden and NUoL intend to embark on a joint research initiative in the months to come.
The subsequent week I spent in Nghe An province, Vietnam, where I visited the FLOURISH project sites. A meeting with the Vietnam FLOURISH partners from the provincial branch of the Forest Protection and Development Fund (NAFF) and the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) provided opportunities to exchange on current developments in the project. Information were shared and I was briefed on the recently completed baseline study. We jointly explored relevant topics for further research and other activities in the field of capacity building. Thereafter, the team headed for Que Phong, one of the two districts that have been selected as project sites.
Located 170 km northwest of the provincial capital of Vinh, Que Phong district is situated in the mountainous border area to Laos and has one of the highest rates of forest cover throughout the country. This part of the province is home to the ethnic group of Thai. Local livelihood strategies combine agriculture (mainly irrigated paddy and livestock) with forest-based activities such as acacia woodlots, natural bamboo harvesting and the collection of other non-timber forest products such as medicinal plants.
The narrow river valleys make agricultural land a scarce resource. This situation has become even more complicated due to growing demographic pressure and hydropower development over the past 15 years along the Chu River. While payments for forest-environmental services (PFES) paid by the hydropower company and disbursed to the villages provide some income, resettlement and the loss of fertile paddy land has increased community’s dependency on the watershed forests.
For mountainous communities, harvesting and selling ‘Lung’ (Bambusa longgissia), a bamboo species endemic to this part of Vietnam, plays a vital role in their livelihood strategies. However, lack of management and unclear tenure rights led to a situation in which Lung has turned into an unregulated open-access resource. As a result, overexploitation in tandem with unsustainable harvesting techniques are the main drivers of degradation of natural Lung stands in quantity and quality. Lung depletion is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the forest landscape and its communities in ecological and socio-economic terms.
In response, the project aims to promote sustainable forest management by promoting institutional change towards forest land allocation and community-based forest management schemes that allow for protection and sustainable forest use. On condition that institutional arrangements are sound and robust, community-private sector partnerships are likely to be forged for Lung value chain development, the latter which constitutes the overarching goal of the FLOURISH project.
During the one week in the field, we examined the role of bamboo in local livelihoods, harvesting techniques and awareness, institutional arrangements such as land tenure and other governance-related issues. Moreover, the upstream part of the Lung value chain was investigated by looking into benefit distribution and the relationship between collectors, middlemen, traders and local processors.
Meetings with local authorities, bamboo users, rangers from the nearby Pu Hoat conservation area and others provided valuable insights and occasions for reflections on the project’s objectives together with local stakeholders. A number of PRA workshops and household interviews were conducted in one of the villages for preparing a larger household survey and a forest inventory to be carried out by a TU Dresden MSc student in May 2019.
The FLOURISH team at TU Dresden is grateful for the generous support we receive from all local stakeholders and the good collaboration with our Vietnamese partners in Nghe An.
By Dr. Simon Benedikter (FLOURISH research coordinator at TU Dresden)