Narrowing the gap between statutory and customary rights in Viet Nam’s community forest management
Researchers in Viet Nam have identified a gap between statutory rights from legally allocated forests and informal customary rights for community forest management
According to a research team from Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry and the World Agroforestry Centre working in Thua Thien Hue province in South-central Viet Nam, the gap between statutory rights from legally allocated forests and informal customary rights stems from inadequate support by local authorities to people who have been allocated forest lands. As a result, these ‘forest’ people could not exercise their formal rights and had to resort to managing their community forests according to customary rules, which differ from those of the government.
To address the gap between the statutory and customary rights, the researchers argued that the authorities should legally recognize community-based forest ownership because existing policies were only focused on organisations holding land tenure. This should involve invoking a complete bundle of rights for communities practising community forest management. A way to support the communities would be to establish forest management learning groups as well as develop livelihoods’ improvement models in accordance with local ecological conditions. In the specific context of Thua Thien Hue province, the Commune People’s Committee and Forest Protection Unit needed to support forest owners in preventing violations of land-use rights.
Forests and, indeed, forestland are managed by various stakeholders in Viet Nam, such as protection forest management boards, national parks, natural resource reserves, forestry companies, commune people’s committees, communities, households and individuals. Although statutory rights-based forest allocation provides recipients with rights of access, withdrawal, management and exclusion over allocated community forests, many recipients found that their ability to exercise or enforce these rights was limited.
This was primarily due to conflict between transferred rights and conditions required to enforce those rights, for example, communities had been allocated logging rights over forest areas that did not meet logging criteria. There was also a lack of legal and/or financial support after formal forest allocation to communities. Without such support, forest owners were unable to exercise land-use rights after allocation, which made the statutory-based frameworks inadequate. The lack also encouraged communities to revert to customary-based approaches to forest management.
Compounding this, there were differences in the approach to community forest management, that is, existing legislation focused on organization-based forest ownership, such as through state forest enterprises, and did not recognize local communities as legal entities.
Many communities in Viet Nam recognise customary rights over forests, even after statutory forest allocation. This is frequently related to subsistence farming, that is, shifting cultivation to maintain traditional culture, but may include cutting timber without permission, gathering non-timber forest products and swidden agricultural practices. These could often be in conflict with the statutory requirements.
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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry