Viet Nam needs a tree-domestication strategy
Despite extensive forest restoration since the wars, quality remains low and indigenous species are underutilised. A comprehensive national strategy would speed increases in timber supply, farmers’ livelihoods, biodiversity and environmental security.
Over the last 25 years, planted trees in Viet Nam have successfully restored many forest functions, however, the quality of these ‘forests’ is limited and seedling supply is often of poor quality. Improved tree domestication can concomitantly lead to improvements in nearly all aspects of the forestry value chain but a comprehensive strategy is needed rather than the current piece-meal approach, argue World Agroforestry Centre researchers Delia C. Catacutan, Phi Hong Hai, Vu Tan Phuong, Dam Viet Bac, Alice Muchugi and Hoang Thi Lua in a recent policy brief, Call for a Tree Domestication Strategy In Vietnam.
‘Tree domestication’ is a term generally used to describe the selection, breeding and adaption of germplasm (seeds and seedlings) to increase production and quality. A national domestication strategy would accelerate the improvement of tree quality and quantities, particularly for indigenous species that are currently underutilised but naturally suited to Viet Nam’s nine agro-ecological zones. This would lead to subsequent improvements in farmers’ livelihoods, biodiversity and environmental security, including timber supply and food security.
There are various existing policies, ordinances, decrees and regulations affecting domestication but they are not coordinated, not performing well and exotic species are privileged over indigenous ones. For example, there is an Ordinance on Germplasm, a Decree on Administrative Sanctions on Germplasm Production and a Regulation on Forest Tree Germplasm Management; the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s national strategy on non-timber forest products makes reference to tree domestication but is unnecessarily narrow and needs to be broadened to include multipurpose and indigenous species; the Ministry has also identified 166 species of forest trees but only 20% have been brought into production and distribution of germplasm is uneven across the nine agro-ecological zones; selection criteria for domestication have not been systematised and are inconsistent regarding economic value, markets, environmental issues and scientific evidence; and the seed bank established at the Vietnam Academy of Forest Science is limited in scope and amount.
Over-reliance on exotic species, such as Acacia and Eucalyptus, increases risks from pests and diseases and undervalues local ecological knowledge of species’ management and opportunities for new product and market development. Developing alternative indigenous species for timber, in particular, would decrease biological risks, enhance landscape hydrology and improve habitats, thereby providing more secure landscapes for the Vietnamese people.
To address these, and other issues outlined in the policy brief, the researchers recommend a range of actions, the foremost and most urgent of which is to establish a national strategy on tree domestication. This would include prioritisation of domesticating species growing above 700 masl, such as Amomum, Morinda, Illicium verum and Cinnamomum and general promotion of indigenous species throughout the nation. Field-based seed banks should also be established in each of the agro-ecological zones to identify species and preserve the best-quality germplasm for farmers’ use, in close consultation with local people. Genetic improvements should also be evaluated to ensure the strategy is meeting its objective, through phenology studies of domestic species, and gene-ecological surveys to assess genetic variation, natural distribution, stands and gene values.
In short, the national strategy would guide efforts to conserve, and optimally use, priority indigenous species in Viet Nam through encouraging investment policies to support breeding production and quality management; ensure species are matched to agro-ecological zones and are culturally appropriate; establish a network of seed banks nationwide; and establish criteria for selecting priority species, which would include economic importance, agro-ecological zone importance, domestic suitability for farms and plantations, market demand, product values, gaps in collection, level of threat and adaptive traits. The sooner that this happens, the sooner Viet Nam will become more secure in timber and food supplies, environmental health and livelihoods.
Read the policy brief
This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry