Payments for environmental services in Viet Nam might not be sustainable without improved monitoring and evaluation
Viet Nam’s payments-for-ecosystem-services schemes might not be sustainable because it’s hard to tell if they are succeeding or not, says Leony Aurora
Five years after payments for ecosystem services (PES) schemes started in Viet Nam, success is measured only by the amount of forest cover, which acts as a proxy for improved environmental services, such as watershed protection and landscape beauty.
However, the actual monitoring of forest cover is weak, based on self-reporting by the people who take part in the schemes. Local governments are required to verify only 10% of the reports but usually fail to do so owing to a lack of resources, said Pham Thu Thuy, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research who has been studying the schemes.
Poor monitoring and evaluation also creates feelings of inequity among the people involved because they receive payments whether or not they actually protect the forests, said Thuy, who was presenting at the 6th Annual Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference in Bali, Indonesia, 26–30 August 2013.
‘Eventually, some people will walk out of their PES contracts’, she said.
Viet Nam’s experiment with PES began in 2008 in two provinces and since then the program has been expanded nationwide. Unlike some other types of PES schemes, where buyers negotiate with sellers to determine prices and indicators, in Viet Nam the process is regulated by the central government. Revenues from PES have more than quadrupled to over USD 85 million last year, according to a recent study authored by Thuy and colleagues.
But without improving how the schemes are monitored and evaluated to determine whether they are achieving their objective of forest preservation, buyers of ecosystem services—of which hydropower companies make up the bulk—would question whether their money was being well spent. There should be evidence of improved forest quality instead of just quantity of cover to ensure that there were significant ecological benefits from the schemes, said Thuy.
PES schemes were also designed to increase incomes and improve livelihoods in the rural communities taking part, so governments should also monitor these elements. But so far, ‘social impacts are assumed but undocumented’, said Thuy. For example, there is a lack of credible data to show that the schemes are having any impact at all on local incomes. Thuy’s research shows that the additional yearly income for families varied widely from one place to another, from as much as USD 1500 to as low as USD 1.50.
‘The question is whether or not it’s significant enough to change their behavior and compensate them for their loss of opportunity‘, said Thuy.
To help ensure the schemes succeed, local governments in Viet Nam need to first fully implement the existing system of a required 10% verification to improve monitoring and evaluation, said Thuy. In the longer term, forest quality and social indicators will need to be established.
‘We need to create a working group with experts from different fields to establish a comprehensive list of monitoring and evaluation indicators’, said Thuy.
The team could also determine which indicators were feasible to be monitored in the short term and which would need more time.
Edited by Robert Finlayson
Read the report
Pham TT, Bennett K, Vu TP, Brunner J, Le ND, Nguyen DT. 2013. Payments for forest environmental services in Vietnam: from policy to practice. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research.
The 6th Ecosystem Services Partnership conference was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry‘s component on landscape management for environmental services, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods