Co-management in protected areas of Vietnam

Studies on the application of community-based management (CBM) in Vietnam, especially in protected areas is still very limited to have better insights on this conservation approach. From literature review, CBM is not yet widely exercising in Vietnamese protected areas; however, based on the general principles of CBM, there are some debates on the constraints of the implementation of this approach in other areas of Vietnam context.

Andrew (2007) reports one of the first co-management project implemented in Tram Chim National Part that the community-based approach requires “a high level of community problem awareness and motivation” while these were still little presented there (page 26). According to Sunderlin (2006),  the biggest constraints for CBM in Vietnam “has been the lack of recognition of communities and their use – rights and forest lands” and “the capacity for governance and resource management at the local level” (page 392). Therefore, this study will be carried out to contribute knowledge on the application of CBM in protected areas of Vietnam to fulfil the gap in scientific research, and to have a better management of natural resource of the country. Moreover, the research will apply the theory of adaptive governance in the context of changes and uncertainties of Vietnam to understand adaptabilities of the Vietnamese system of governance on forest domain; thus, it can feed into the theory the linkages between ecological – economic – political – social perspectives in natural resource management, which are not yet well- elaborated.


Detailed problem definition and research objectives


To preserve primary forests, the Vietnamese Ministry of Forestry (now Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development - MARD) classifies some areas of forest as ‘special use forest’ referred as protected areas, which have no exploitative activities within them. The protected area network is divided into national parks, nature reserves and historic-cultural and environmental sites (Rugendyke and Son 2005). The number of protected areas has been considerably increased from 1993, when Vietnam officially became a member of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Zingerli 2005; Meyfroidt and Lambin 2008). According to Vietnam national report (Parnership 2003) , to meet CBD’s and Ramsar obligations, Vietnam formulated a Biodiversity Action Plan, which recommended strengthening the special use forests system by expanding to two million hectares and establishing a representative network of wetland protected areas.


Protected areas in Vietnam today bear many controversies in management (Parnership 2003). The control of human activities in protected areas has proved difficult because many people live on natural resources in these areas. Conflicts over resources between local users and those involved in nature conservation often arise because of efforts to exclude local users from natural resources in protected areas (Zingerli 2005). Pamela (2004) stated that extending the protected areas network and trying to patrol areas with forest guards (Kiem Lam in Vietnamese) is not feasible in Vietnam because of low salaries for rangers, limited personnel to patrol large areas, and the historical animosity between Kiem Lam rangers and local populations in many areas. Vietnamese protected areas are labeled by one Kiem Lam officer as “the forest of the three no’s”(Pamela 2004). These ‘three no’s’ are composed of forest areas with no local people living close enough to protect it; no land had been given out to individuals or communities to protect as part of land allocation policies; and no Kiem Lam forest guards to check forest quality regularly. He suggests that changing the three no’s forest land to three yes’s forest land - local people with incentives to conserve, local land use rights codified in law, and the support of local Kiem Lam officers with incentives to truly protect forest lands - can improve the situation of illegal logging. It is clearly that there is a need to experiment with and assess suitable alternatives, and likely, a form of CBM was suggested.


Protected area remains a dominant paradigm for natural resource management in Vietnam. However, CBM is advocated by international organizations for the country to achieve its targets on both forest management and poverty alleviation through many community–based resource management projects.  CARE’s project, for instance, represents a co-management approach to Tram Chim National Park of Vietnam (Andrew and Quan 2007). According to MARD (2005), the Vietnam Conservation Fund (VCF) based on a GEF-TFF-EU financed mechanism has been established since 2005 to support the development of co-management based approaches to protected areas, and to strengthen management capacity at site level. Vietnam, moreover, is also a member of CBD, which is encouraging the implementation of the CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas. This programme requires establishment of policies and institutional mechanisms with full participation of indigenous and local communities, and promotion of an enabling environment (legislation, policies, capacities, and resources) for the involvement of indigenous and local communities and relevant stakeholders in decision making, and the development of their capacities and opportunities to establish and manage protected areas (IUCN 2006). Doubtless, there is a pressure from international regimes for shifting from state-control protected areas to community–based approach in Vietnam.


In recent Vietnam’s political–economic context, the implementation of doi moi (renovation) has resulted in a remarkable transformation in economy and public administration, and influenced the mechanism of protected area management. The socialist–oriented market economy has created conditions for rapid economic growth and poverty alleviation. For protected areas, economic growth offers both opportunities and challenges. Protected areas have more funds for operating, however, demands for their services and products from society are growing (Parnership 2003). Additionally, the Public Administration Reform (PAR) launched in 1995, which includes institutional reform, organization changes, and human resource development, has led to a number of changes in laws and governance structure such as reductions in the numbers of government agencies, administrative procedures. Regarding protected areas, PAR provides opportunities for shaping institutional responsibilities to manage the domain effectively (Parnership 2003). According to Vietnam National Report (Parnership 2003), Vietnamese forest policy is now focusing on streams of conservation, livelihoods and economic development, which match CBM targets.


Embedded in the doi moi process, the decentralization process also has important hints to protected areas for CBM approach. “A loosening of government controls in agriculture”, and “a decentralization of authority to the lowest appropriate level” could encourage “greater public involvement in protected area planning” (Parnership 2003, page 18). Decentralization, a linchpin for a successful community-based conservation program (Campbell and Vainio-Mattila 2003), can create additional pressure for institutional changes in forestry management in protected areas.


However, lessons learned from many other countries like China, Thailand, and India shown that the application of CBM is not easy because it is an attempt to match simultaneous environmental, economic and social objectives related to forest resources (Hirsch and Carol 1998). Campbell and Vainio-Mattila (2003) note that the principles of CBM include participation of local people by allowing communities to regain control over resource management, strengthen decision-making, and improve their welfare. Achieving the goals of CBM requires reconciliation of multiple interests as well as careful blending of formal and informal institutions on diverse social scales (Nygren 2004). In other words, to apply CBM successfully in a certain context, suitable institutional arrangements should be constructed to facilitate the involvement of local people and the mechanism that empowering the people and improving their living conditions.


How CBM works in protected areas is still limited in Vietnam to have better insights on this conservation approach.  A study on CBM in Vietnamese protected areas is needed to contribute to a better management of natural resource of the country. Moreover, in the IUCN document (IUCN 2006), Ferrari mentioned that South-East Asian countries need to review the existing and potential forms of community conserved areas. Agrawal (1999) suggests that to study community in natural resource conservation,   “a more political approach”, in which “community must be examined in the context of development and conservation by focusing on the multiple interests and actors within communities, on how these actors influence decision-making, and on the internal and external institutions that shape the decision-making process” (page 629). 


From forest management practices in Vietnamese protected areas, the only state government controls over the forests is proven not feasible. Co-management between multi–level governments, local people, and other actors seems to be an option for the country to share the tasks of forest management and benefits from the resources. The international regimes and the national political-economic innovation process are putting pressures on changing in the approach to forest protection from top–down management to CBM.  The capacity of local people to make-decision and capacity of the governance system engaged in operating CBM in Vietnamese protected areas become very important to ensure the successfulness of this emerging paradigm. The capacity of local people and of the governance system in the domain will be exposed to uncertainties from interactions of diverse social scales, actors and interests, and tested their adaptabilities to new situations. Local users from exclusion from natural resources are encouraged to engage in protecting natural resources and share benefits. CBM in protected areas of Vietnam becomes a challenge to institutional arrangements from local community to higher level such as district, provincial, and state governments. The system of governance requires abilities to learn to deal with and to adapt to uncertainties to persist and develop. Therefore, the research objective, on the one hand, is to understand the capacity of multi-level institutional arrangements, and capacity of local people to engage in forest protection. On the other hand, it is to understand how these capacities contribute to the system of governance to learn to adapt to changes and uncertainties in managing protected areas.