Cultivating forests: The role of forest land in household livelihood adaptive strategies in northern Vietnam


  • The poorest households are more dependent on agriculture and forest lands for sustaining their livelihoods than the more well-off ones.
  • Plantation forest lands have multiple livelihood values, not limited to conventional forestry.
  • Households in different locations adapt differently to ‘one-size-fits-all‘ policies.
  • Forest-agriculture policy dichotomies risk masking the complexities of land uses and livehood adaptations.
  • Sustainable livelihood- and envirionmental policies demand context specific and interdisciplinary approaches.

Abstract: The paper challenges predominant forest-agriculture dichotomies in policy-making and research in Vietnam. Such dichotomies are not endemic to Vietnam, but permeates the whole climate and forest debate globally. It encompasses a perception that forests are of higher value kept standing and that agricultural practices, forest conservation and sustainable use of forests are mutually excluding activities. The study has been based on a survey carried out in the Province of Bac Kan in northern Vietnam. It applied a livelihood framework to investigate the multiple values of forest lands in household economies. The case demonstrated the complexities of adaptations to forest-sector policies, and that households in different institutional and agro-ecological settings use forest lands differently to generate livelihood incomes. It also showed that if all productive values are taken into account, relatively speaking forest lands represent more important livelihood assets for the poorer segments of households than the more well-off ones. The findings may have important implications for climate relate forest policies, such as REDD+ and REALU. Policy makers should engage with people and local communities, their social institutions and agricultural practices, and look at context-specific approaches for integrating the objectives of conserving trees, increasing carbon stocks and enhancing the total productivity and values of landscapes. The study recommends inter-sectoral and multi-stakeholder policy approaches integrating and mainstreaming multiple objectives, including forestry, agriculture, energy and other environmental services, such as carbon capture and storage, water provision, and biodiversity conservation. 

Keywords: Vietnam; Forest land use; Sustainable livelihoods; Forest policies; REDD+; REALU

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Published 23. February 2018 - 11:54 - Updated 23. February 2018 - 11:55