Forest Conservation from the Office to the Field with IUCN VN

02 July 2009 | News story

I joined the IUCN Viet Nam office on a Canadian government-funded programme through the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a not-for-profit that partners with more than 200 organisations worldwide to advance the mission of mitigating climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation.

During my time here, I primarily focused on forestry issues, which allowed me to travel to both Bac Kan province in the north and Thua Thien Hue in central Viet Nam to work with local authorities on issues of forest management and use. Seeing that governance work done at the local level, in plain view of the forests we were striving to protect, was both challenging and rewarding for me.

I was actively involved in developing the second round of research under IUCN’s Landscapes and Livelihoods Strategy (LLS). The 2009 research in the two provinces will focus on forest product trading, market incentives and Community Forest Management (CFM). The results will then inform national- and provincial-level policy advocacy.

A major part of my work revolved around contributing to researching and writing a scoping study identifying potential indicators for use in monitoring the legal timber scheme FLEG-T (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade) in Viet Nam. FLEG-T is rising in importance internationally, and, because Viet Nam is a major exporter of furniture, it will have large impacts here. IUCN VN’s Strengthening Voices for Better Choices (SVBC) program is helping the nation adjust to changing timber regulations through trainings for officials and business and through the study on how to monitor timber sources nationally.

My work on the study allowed me to broaden my comprehension of how forest governance intersects with the timber industry in Viet Nam. Understanding such interactions between government, the private sector and the international community will help me immensely as I continue in a career that seeks to interject principles of environmental conservation and responsibility at such junctures.

The European Union FLEG-T action plan (2003) has set a tone of accountability in the forestry sector, for example, and has the ultimate goal of requiring that all timber imported into the EU be of proven legal provenance. Recent changes to the U.S. Lacey Act (2008) also set higher standards against trade in illegal timber to the United States.

More than 65 percent of Vietnamese furniture exports in recent years have gone to EU and U.S. markets, according to the General Statistics Office, so restrictions in those markets could have a very large effect on Viet Nam’s wood processing sector if improved standards of legality are not put in place.

One of the most important components of FLEG-T is monitoring. Regulators can improve only what they can keep track of. With that in mind, a national set of indicators for monitoring progress on FLEG-T is a priority. Indicators will need to focus not just on law enforcement in the forest sector, but will look at governance more broadly. Issues of transparency and accountability, effectiveness and resolutions to conflict in land use planning, will need scrutiny.

The scoping study undertaken by IUCN has three primary components: a desk-study of international best practices on forest governance indicators; a review of monitoring and initiatives already underway or completed in Viet Nam; and a consultation process with FLEG-T-related stakeholders in Viet Nam.

I plan to return to Viet Nam to continue work with the environmental sector here. The experiences I gained with IUCN VN have given me a solid foundation from which to continue approaching challenges to environmental integrity here and throughout the developing world.

Tim Holland

Lang Son riverside livelihood